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Masks And Routine Testing Help Drive Decline In COVID Cases In LA Students

A bar graph shows vaccinated people in L.A. County are far less likely to contract COVID-19 than unvaccinated people.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)
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The summer COVID surge continues to retreat.

In California, new cases and related deaths are dropping. Los Angeles County’s transmission rate remains “substantial,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while most of the nation is “high.”

L.A. County health officials say new reported cases are hovering around 925 daily, down from the high in August of more than 4,000. On average, fewer than 750 people in the county are hospitalized with the virus. Health officials still report about 12 COVID-related deaths daily.

Report From The Schools

School-related COVID cases are also dropping. L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer credits community and staff vaccinations and routine testing and mask wearing in many districts, including LAUSD.

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“Last week, we saw 591 student cases and nearly 2,400 student close contacts were identified,” Ferrer said Thursday at her weekly news briefing. “This is a decrease of about 45% in both groups from the previous week.”

There were 88 cases among staff and they exposed 171 people — referred to as "close contacts" — in the same timeframe. This amounts to 0.04% of students and staff testing positive and 0.2% identified as close contacts, Ferrer said.

“Given that we have more than 1.7 million children and staff attending or working at over 3,000 schools countywide, these are strikingly low numbers,” Ferrer said. “Most of the cases were diagnosed through routine screening of asymptomatic people, which identifies many infected people who would not ordinarily be detected.”

Cases Down, Outbreaks Up

While cases among students are down, outbreaks related to schools have gone up. The health department defines an outbreak as three or more cases linked to transmission at a school or school program.

A bar graph showing 14 outbreaks the week ending Oct. 9 in L.A. schools. Nine of the outbreaks were in elementary schools, three were related to youth sports, one was at a middle school and one at a high school.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

The number of outbreaks increased over the past two weeks from five the week ending Oct. 2 to 14 outbreaks the week ending Oct. 9. Nine of the outbreaks last week were in elementary schools, three were related to youth sports, one was at a middle school and one at a high school.

Ferrer called on adults to better monitor children participating in youth sports. In the past month, 21 outbreaks were associated with such programs.

“Sixteen of these outbreaks have been associated with football, four were associated with cheerleading and dance teams, and one was associated with a baseball team. Overall, these outbreaks involve 394 cases and 1,527 contacts,” Ferrer said.

Some are under a vaccine mandate. LAUSD high school students must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31 to continue competing on athletic teams.

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Access To Vaccines

Children 12 and up can receive the Pfizer vaccine, but younger children will have to wait until after Halloween for the shots. A CDC group meets in early November to review the data on shots for 5-11 year olds. Ferrer estimated that’s about 900,000 children in L.A. County.

“We'll be working with schools, pediatric and family care providers and our community partners to again ensure easy access, especially in those communities that have been hardest hit,” she said.

Since the pandemic began, about 1 in every 7 people in L.A. County has tested positive. More than 25,300 deaths have been linked to the virus in L.A. County, while nationwide more than 716,000 people have died.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.