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COVID-19 Cases Leveling Off, But Will Schools Reopen Soon?

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School zone traffic signs near Mariposa-Nabi Primary School in Koreatown. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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The surge of new coronavirus cases related to the 2020 holiday season is tapering off, according to Los Angeles County’s public health director, and L.A. could soon meet the national metric to reopen schools.

New coronavirus cases in L.A. County have leveled off to about 3,500 per day, Dr. Barbara Ferrer said on our newsroom’s afternoon news program, “All Things Considered.” And the average number of people infected by one sick person is going down.

“Our daily test positivity is now 7%,” she said. “In the beginning of January, we were at 20%. So lots less transmission going on.”

Currently, 3,600 people in the county are hospitalized with COVID-19, and one in three of those individuals are in intensive care. On Saturday, county officials reported another 197 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total to 18,986.

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On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for reopening schools. Ferrer expressed optimism that local schools could reach the requisite numbers soon.

“I do believe that very shortly, L.A. County will in fact reach that metric ... where we'll have less than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents,” she said. “That will allow those elementary schools that want to reopen, to reopen.”

Still, many issues around reopening have yet to be ironed out.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is working on legislation to give schools money for safety supplies, but Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner has said that not enough funds are slated for underserved locations.

Some activists and experts have voiced concerns that returning to school will put families that live in multi-generational homes at greater risk.

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LAUSD parents have expressed mixed opinions about resuming in-class instruction. And the teachers’ union wants all teachers and staff to be vaccinated before schools reopen.

The CDC’s recommendations suggest that while teachers should get vaccine priority, schools can reopen before educators get their shots.