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LA Unified Schools Will Offer ‘Periodic’ Coronavirus Tests To All Staff, Students This Year

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Video: In his weekly video address, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district will partner with labs and universities to provide COVID testing and contact tracing.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials have long warned that a lack of COVID-19 testing options in the community would make it difficult to reopen campuses any time soon.

Now, after waiting months for public or private providers to step up, the nation’s second-largest school district is taking matters into its own hands.

LAUSD leaders announced plans Sunday to provide periodic coronavirus testing to nearly half-a-million students and more than 66,000 employees over the course of the coming year, all as part of a broader effort to research COVID-19 and determine whether school reopening is safe.

“The health system, ideally, would be doing this,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said in an interview Sunday, “but the health system hasn’t responded quickly enough to the need.” (Beutner was careful not to lay blame with any specific public or private entity.)

“We can’t wait,” Beutner added later, “because we need to make sure our teachers and those working in schools are safe. We need to make sure our students can get back to school as soon as reasonably possible.”

A healthcare worker directs a patient at a testing site at the Forum in Inglewood. (Courtesy of the County of Los Angeles)

TESTING, CONTACT TRACING AND RESEARCH

While LAUSD will begin a new academic year on Tuesday with almost all students learning remotely, testing could begin as early as this week for the limited number of district staff who will be working on-campus. Screenings could begin as early as next week for children signed up for child care facilities the district is offering for on-campus workers.

Over time, the COVID-19 testing program will scale up to test all students and staff — and even household members of students and staff who test positive — at least once. Participants will receive invitations for future “periodic” tests at district-run sites, which will be open even before LAUSD decides to resume on-campus instruction, according to a district press release.

The testing is part of a much broader pact between LAUSD and a collection of major research universities, health providers and lab and tech companies. Among them: Microsoft, which will provide software that will allow local school administrators to aid in contact tracing and other efforts to curb COVID-19’s spread.

Together, the entities will form a task force — co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — aimed at generating research that could help school districts nationwide decide when to reopen campuses.

‘THE HEALTH CRISIS IS BECOMING AN EDUCATION CRISIS’

The involvement of a member of President Obama’s cabinet is only one indication of the significance of LAUSD’s research effort.

Beutner said he was unaware of another school system in the U.S. establishing its own testing network, contact tracing system and epidemiological research — a statement that’s difficult to verify. (We were pointed to at least one other example: thanks to an outside organization, employees in Denver Public Schools and seven other nearby Colorado school systems will have access to testing every two weeks.)

In Los Angeles, the testing and tracing effort will be costly: Beutner estimated it will cost LAUSD more than $150 million. The district has a nearly-$9 billion operating budget.

But Beutner said the cost was well worth it if it ensured reopening schools could be done safely — and more quickly. He urged the federal government to step in to fund the effort.

Beutner drew an analogy with hospital funding, arguing that as the threat from the pandemic mounted, governments did not say, "Yeah, more people need ventilators, but we can’t afford them, so good luck."

“I think the same approach has to be taken in the education system," Beutner said. "The health crisis is becoming an education crisis because students have been absent from schools for too long.”

A padlocked entrance to Thomas Starr King Middle School, an L.A. Unified School District campus in Silver Lake, on April 1, 2020. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

In April, Los Angeles claimed to be the first major city in the U.S. to offer universal COVID-19 testing when the county opened its testing centers up to all residents — even those without symptoms. But by late June, it was harder to secure an appointment for a test. Now, local officials are no longer advertising testing for all, prioritizing tests for essential workers and individuals who were exposed or have symptoms.

While Beutner avoided criticism of other state and local officials, his school system is now entering a vacuum for testing that other government agencies have struggled for months to fill.

HOW OFTEN WILL STUDENTS AND STAFF BE TESTED?

Students and staff members will receive their individual test results, and will be able to self-quarantine while LAUSD staff perform contact-tracing functions.

But the ultimate purpose of LAUSD’s effort is not necessarily to create a web of testing that will catch each individual COVID-19 infection.

The testing is aimed more to help researchers learn about COVID-19’s prevalence in the community and to use that data to inform high-level education and public health decisions, including when and whether to reopen school campuses.

In effect, LAUSD is offering itself as an epidemiological testing ground at a steep cost to the district.

To that end, though, Beutner said it isn’t clear yet how often individual students or teachers can expect to be invited to take a COVID-19 test. In his interview, Beutner suggested different students or employees may be tested at different frequencies depending on their varying levels of risk.

WHO’S PERFORMING THE RESEARCH AND TESTING?

Three universities are leading the research effort, offering their services pro bono: UCLA, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.

A district statement quoted Dr. Steven M. Dubinett, director of UCLA’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute, as saying the three universities “will bring breadth and depth of scientific expertise to study the impact and effects of Los Angeles Unified reopening plan and to share the information learned from these research efforts throughout the world.”

They’ll be relying on data from tests processed in two labs. SummerBio, a Silicon Valley start-up with facilities in the Bay Area, offers nasal swab tests — and because the company has automated much of the lab work to process these tests, it promises to provide tests at cheaper costs and with quicker results.

A second, more-established lab — Clinical Reference Laboratory, which is based in Lenexa, Kansas and is one of the nation’s largest private labs — will provide test kits that don’t involve nasal swabs. Beutner said its cheek swab kits might be easier to administer to younger students.

In addition to data from LAUSD’s tests, the task force will consider data from Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net, which will also help ensure “every eligible family is enrolled in Medi-Cal or Covered California.”

LAUSD will ask for employee volunteers to administer these tests to students, though Beutner noted he hopes the district’s school nurses fill that role. School nurses are represented by United Teachers Los Angeles, and the union’s new distance learning agreement with the district does not contemplate on-site COVID-19 testing.

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Nine New COVID-19 Deaths In LA County, 1,192 New Cases

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Published
(Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

L.A. County public health officials on Sunday confirmed 1,192 new cases of the coronavirus and nine new deaths attributed to the disease. Today’s numbers bring the total in the region to 221,950 positive cases and 5,254 deaths.

Of the nine deaths reported today:

  • Four people were over the age of 80
  • Three were between 65 and 79
  • One were between 50 and 64

One death was reported by the City of Long Beach, and is not included in the above age breakdown.

Among all reported COVID-19-related fatalities in L.A. County, 92% had underlying health conditions. Information about race and ethnicity is available for 99% of people who have died:

  • 10% African American [9% of county residents]
  • 15% Asian [15.4% of county residents]
  • 50% Latino / Latina [48.6% of county residents]
  • 24% White [26.1% of county residents]
  • 1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander [0.4% of county residents]
  • 1% identified as belonging to a different race or ethnicity

At the moment, 1,357 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in L.A. County, with 32% of those individuals in the ICU.

"It is a collective responsibility shared between everyone, including each resident and business, to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health. “We need collaboration and unity to do those things we know reduce transmission of the virus so we can re-open with as much safety as possible.”

MORE ON CORONAVIRUS:

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Pasadena Police Fatally Shoot Man After A Traffic Stop

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Published
Friends of Anthony McClain set up a memorial for him. Pasadena police say an officer fatally shot a man during a traffic stop Saturday but have not ID'd him. Josie Huang/LAist

A Pasadena police officer fatally shot a man after a Saturday night traffic stop, sparking a confrontation between police and a crowd that gathered after the incident.

The slain man was a passenger in the car that police stopped on Raymond Avenue and Grandview Street shortly before 8 p.m. for what police said was a "violation of a vehicle code."

According to a statement from the Pasadena Police Department, the passenger “became uncooperative, preventing a search of his person.”

The passenger then fled into the street and — according to the police — removed a firearm from his waistband, prompting an officer to shoot at the man twice, striking him at least once in the upper torso, Police say the man threw his firearm into the street as he ran and when he stopped, the officers realized he was injured and called for medical assistance.

The man died later at the hospital.

Department spokesman Lt. William Grisafe said an investigation into the shooting is underway and that the police chief has made a commitment to get video from the body-worn camera available "sooner than later." Grisafe estimated that it "could be within days or it could take a couple weeks."

Grisafe said the officer is not currently on duty.

"We're still in the preliminary investigation stages so that determination will be made, as to what the plan of attack is in regards to the officer," Grisafe said.

Police say they will identify the slain man, pending notification of next of kin.

But friends and family who gathered at the site of the shooting Sunday morning said the victim was Anthony McClain.

More than a dozen people gathered around a memorial set up by where they said he was killed across from La Pintoresca Park, about a tenth of a mile away from the traffic stop. People hugged and cried as a dozen red candles flickered around empty bottles of liquor.

By 2p.m., about three dozen people had gathered at La Pintoresca Park to remember McClain. One of them was a man named Dion who said that Anthony McClain was his older brother, a 32-year-old R&B-loving father of two.

Dion said he could barely muster the words to describe what he was feeling.

"I can't even really talk. They killed my brother though," Dion said. "I hate police - straight up. They're not here to protect and serve, none of that. They're here to kill us."

Lt. William Grisafe said a crowd of 50 to 100 people had gathered about two or three hours after Saturday's shooting.

He said they used a Taser on and arrested a man who threatened violence on police.

Police also responded to the crowd with pepper spray. Grisafe said a minor was not sprayed directly but hit by "residual spray" and was treated on the scene by parademics and left with no "permanent or serious injury."

The episode led the boy’s mother to use pepper spray on an officer. Grisafe said it was not clear how she obtained the pepper spray or if it was her own. She was not arrested.

10:40 am Monday: This story has been updated to update information about the man who says he was Anthony McClain's brother.

Wildfires Continue To Burn Near LA, And The Heat Doesn't Help

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Firefighters on Friday watch as the Ranch 2 fire burns in the San Gabriel mountains above Azusa. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

Sunday 3:30 p.m. update: The Lake Fire continues to burn near Lake Hughes and is now approaching 18,000 acres. The fire remains at 12% containment.

Meanwhile, police are searching for a man suspected of intentionally starting the Ranch 2 Fire in Azusa. Authorities say the suspect, 36-year-old Osmin Palencia, is believed to have been living in a homeless encampment in the Azusa Canyon riverbed. Witnesses say he started the blaze during an argument with another man.

The Ranch 2 Fire has burned 2,256 acres and is 7% contained. Firefighters in that area are facing temperatures over 100 degrees, and are concerned about possible thunderstorms.

Smoke from the fires is creating unhealthy air quality across much of L.A. County. As a result, a heat wave ozone advisory is in effect. High levels of ozone can cause respiratory problems including asthma attacks and lung damage.

Wildfires continued to burn near L.A. area on Saturday, forcing firefighters to work in the extreme heat.

As of Saturday morning, the Ranch 2 Fire had burned roughly 2,500 acres near Azusa and was 3% contained. Evacuation orders were lifted for the Mountain Cove community, although U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Deb Schweizer said crews were in the area overnight on Friday, “primarily focusing on making sure the developed areas near the fire are protected and working on some of the contingency line uphill.”

Schweizer said the Ranch 2 Fire was being remapped Saturday to get a more accurate account of acreage and containment.

Meanwhile the Lake Fire, burning near Lake Hughes, had destroyed six structures and damaged three. Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Jake Miller said infrared mapping done overnight revised the acreage to over 14,700, with 12% containment.

Temperatures will be over a hundred degrees in both fire zones, and the intense heat makes it very easy for wildfires to grow quickly. Firefighters have to take frequent breaks to stay hydrated while working the fire line.

A wildfire near Corona that prompted evacuations earlier this week is now 75% contained, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

This story has been updated.

MORE ON THIS FIRE SEASON:

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Morning Briefing: Air Quality, Fires And Heat (Oh, My)

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Coming Up Today, August 16

We're continuing to track the high heat, poor air quality and area fires.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

Where There's Smoke: It is ferociously hot this weekend and the air quality is unhealthy in many parts of Southern California. One expert told us: "If you smell smoke, or you see ash, or you see smoke in your area, you should try to limit your exposure." The concern about our air is warranted. On Friday, some areas of SoCal saw the highest levels of ozone over a one-hour period in a decade.

Fires Still Burning: Firefighters had to work in extreme heat as they tried to contain two wildfires burning near Los Angeles on Saturday. Evacuation order were lifted for a community affected by the Ranch 2 Fire near Azusa. Meanwhile the Lake Fire, burning near Lake Hughes, had destroyed six structures and damaged three.

Latest COVID-19 Numbers: L.A. County health officials on Saturday reported 35 new deaths from COVID-19 across the county, and 2,103 new confirmed cases.

New Testing Site: A free COVID-19 testing site at the Mexican Consulate by MacArthur Park has opened to address the need for testing in the surrounding community, home to many immigrants from Latin America.


Weekend Reads

There's a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s hard enough to keep up with our day-to-day lives without also trying to stay current on the news. But if you have some time this weekend, these articles provide some much-needed insight into the current moment in L.A., as well as some news you may have missed:

Semaj Miller, a 14-year-old basketball prodigy, was shot to death in South L.A. at the end of July. Many in his community attribute his death to the ongoing pandemic, which has forced the closure of youth programs in the area. (The 562)

In this excerpt from Katie Hill’s new memoir, the former Congresswoman discusses her abusive ex-husband, the sexual violence that forced her to resign her seat, and more. (LA Mag)

L.A. County will pay $8 million to the family of Darren Burley, a Black man who died in 2012 after Sheriff’s deputies beat him with a flashlight, tased him, and kneeled on his back and neck. (LA Watts Times)

The Melrose Ave. we all know and love may soon look very different. (Urbanize L.A.)

Chanchanit Martorell has spent 14 years shepherding the Thai Town Marketplace, a food hall intended to kickstart low-income chefs and first-time entrepreneurs. It may finally be happening. (The LAnd)

This couple recently opened the first CBD shop in Boyle Heights, inspired by their families’ histories as well as the history of the area. (LA Taco)

For one Mt. Washington mom, giving birth during the coronavirus took her on a journey from “soul-wrenching and heartbreaking” to “elated [and] exhausted.” (The Eastsider)


Photo Of The Day

One way to beat the worst heat wave in years? The beach in Venice, socially distanced, of course.

Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

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The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft, and check LAist.com for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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