More than 5,200 Covid cases have been detected among K-12 students in Los Angeles County over the past two weeks, a number the public health director called “sobering” today. According to figures released by the county Wednesday, 5,207 infections were identified among students in the county between Aug. 15-29 — along with 729 cases among school staff.
But the public health director and the county schools superintendent expressed confidence in safety measures being taken on campuses.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the cases are largely being detected thanks to aggressive routine screening tests, particularly within the Los Angeles Unified School District, which now accounts for nearly two- thirds of all the Covid testing being conducting across the county.
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“We average about 500 cases a day (among students) across L.A. County,” she said. “The largest portion of those cases are identified through routine screening, and these are really people who are in fact asymptomatic. So it’s a sobering number because it’s large, but it’s actually helpful to be able to identify people who are infected with Covid before they show symptoms and before they have lots of opportunities…to go ahead and spread that virus.”
According to L.A. Public Health, “most school sites with cases, 849 in all, reported only one case. However, 193 LAUSD and 105 other school sites reported two cases, and 621 LAUSD and 94 other school sites reported three or more cases.” Every school case identified requires the student or staff memeber to isolate at home for 10 days. Additionally, any unvaccinated close contacts identified are required to quarantine. Thus, one case can take more than one student out of school.
“The sobering news for all of us is that with high rates of community transmission…we have a number of people in our school community that are testing positive and that can in fact infect others,” she said. “We have to move quickly to prevent the kind of transmission in schools that will create very large outbreaks, something that’s been done successfully since reopening last fall.”
Ferrer noted that during her visits to school campuses, she found “much attention to the details about creating safety.”
Debra Duardo, superintendent of the county Office of Education, said that despite the thousands of cases detected, mitigation strategies at the schools “have been very effective.”
“I’ve been visiting schools every single day, and children and adults are doing an excellent job wearing their masks, keeping distant from one another, following all the protocols, disinfecting,” she said. “I think we’re doing everything that we can do to make sure our schools are as safe as possible and that we’re preventing the spread of Covid within our schools.”
Of the 5,200 cases among L.A. students in the past two weeks she said, “When there’s high rates of infection in communities, you are going to see some of that come into our schools, but we’re not seeing high spread within the schools, and so we’re very satisfied with the work that’s being done by our teachers and administrators and all school employees in following all of the strategies.”
Ferrer said more outbreaks are likely with schools remaining open, and she noted that roughly half of the outbreaks involved school sports. The most common factors found to have contributed to outbreaks were breakdowns in mask-wearing, lack of physical distancing both indoors and outdoors and lack of proper ventilation.
Ferrer also noted rising case rates among children 5 to 11, who are not eligible for vaccinations. From Aug. 14 to Aug. 21, that age group saw a 50% jump in cases, while in the past week, the group saw another 9% increase, despite drops in cases among children aged 0 to 4 and 12 to 17.
The county on Wednesday reported an unusually high 389 new Covid deaths, raising the cumulative death toll from throughout the pandemic to 25,322. According to the county Department of Public Health, 90% of all COVID deaths during the pandemic — and 90% since the beginning of March 2021 — have involved people with at least one underlying health condition. The most common conditions were hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. The county recorded an additional 2,277 Covid infections on Wednesday.
Statewide, there were a shocking 23,387 newly reported confirmed cases. State officials noted that that number includes more than 10,000 cases that were delayed from Northern California Kaiser Permanente. Cases have averaged between 10,000 and 13,000 recently.
Cases are increasing largely among unvaccinated populations. For the week of August 15 – August 21, the 7-day average case rate among unvaccinated Californians age 16 or older is 61.55 per 100,000 per day while the 7-day average case rate among vaccinated Californians age 16 or older is just 10.77 per 100,000 per day. That puts the case rate among the unvaccinated about 571% than among those who are vaccinated.
According to the state, there were 1,673 Covid-positive patients in L.A. county hospitals today, including 446 people in intensive care. That was down from Tuesday, when there were 1,699 people hospitalized with COVID, and 448 in the ICU.
The rolling daily average rate of people testing positive for the virus in Los Angeles County was 2.5% as of Tuesday, down from 2.9% a week ago. Ferrer has attributed the recent drop in part to massively increased screening tests being done at schools and businesses.
Of all eligible residents in the county aged 12 and older, 65% are fully vaccinated, while 74% have received at least one dose. Of course, kids under 12 — who make up roughly 13% of the state’s population — are not eligible for the vaccine and not included in those figures, so the inoculation rate for all residents of the county is lower.
City News Service contributed to this report.