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Health Experts Recommend Masks And Rapid Tests For Safe Graduation Gatherings

A graduate wearing black sunglasses and a red mortarboard and mask.
Graduation season means possible spreading of COVID at ceremonies and parties.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Despite Los Angeles County’s high COVID-19 transmission rate and around 4,000 reported cases a day, officials haven’t renewed restrictions at large gatherings such as graduations.

Instead, health officials are calling for individuals to choose masking and testing on their own. Outbreaks of three or more cases related to the end of the school year are already on the rise.

“With more transmissible variants circulating, and increased chances for exposures due to the end of the year events and celebrations, we've been seeing increases in cases and outbreaks in [transitional kindergarten] through grade 12 schools,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said at a recent press conference.

There were 16 new school-associated outbreaks in L.A. County last week. Large outbreaks at a small number of schools have been associated with proms, school events and performances, and field trips. The L.A. County Public Health Dept. reports case numbers in each outbreak range from 25 to 80 among students and staff.

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To reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus or developing long COVID, Ferrer said to keep celebrations and gatherings outdoors and wear a well-fitting mask — especially around large groups of people, such as college or high school graduation ceremonies where thousands of people gather.

Testing is another tool that will help protect vulnerable grandparents or children too young to be vaccinated.

“Schools have been offered additional over-the-counter test kits to make it easy for students and family members to test before they attend celebratory events,” Ferrer said.

If you must gather indoors, open windows and turn on fans to keep air moving.

Vaccinations and the newly-approved coronavirus booster shots for children over the age of 5 are available at 366 school-based vaccination sites across the county.

“While we recognize that many children who test positive experience mild illness, national trends are showing increases in hospitalization rates for children, and more uncertainty about longer term impacts of even mild infection in children,” Ferrer said.

L.A. County health officials say a public indoor mask mandate will only return if hospitalizations worsen.

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Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.