SACRAMENTO — With the Omicron variant raging across California, millions of schoolchildren returned to classrooms on Monday, ending the holiday break as many had spent it — masked, distanced, apprehensive and in long lines with their parents, scrambling for coronavirus tests.
Few schools were closed in a state that has had its Covid-19 protections among the most stringent in the country. California has managed to maintain relatively low rates of viral-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Recent infections have skyrocketed due to the highly contagious strain, which seems to cause fewer severe cases. In hundreds of areas, instruction in person was constrained by heightened health requirements. It was also fraught with the understanding and possibility that remote learning might be possible.
“Frankly, the disruption I’m worried about isn’t Day 1 — it’s Day 2, 3 or 4 if we get 30 or 40 or 50 positive cases,” said Alex Cherniss, the superintendent of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, where, after days of impassioned community debate, some 10,000 students in coastal Los Angeles County returned to class on Monday.
“People are exhausted here,” he said.
California’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, was not scheduled to resume classes until next week. The district issued new rules on Monday that required baseline testing to be completed before students can return to campus. Before, testing was optional for employees and students who were vaccinated or asymptomatic.
In many other districts the reopening Monday of classrooms hinged on fresh rounds in coronavirus testing.
Marin County students were given kits to test the virus before returning to campus. Sacramento County families spent hours waiting at testing sites set up by school districts, or taking advantage of six-million take-home tests that the state gave to districts across California when Omicron was starting a spike.
“We did two tests at home and he’s fine,” Emily Ramey said as she dropped off her younger child at a middle school in suburban Sacramento. “I’m just hoping that everyone else tested, too.”
Los Angeles Unified already conducts the nation’s largest weekly school-based coronavirus testing program, but health officials in the county have ratcheted up other measures that will affect the hundreds of thousands of students and employees in the school system, along with those in private schools and nearly 80 other public school districts.
New health rules starting Jan. 1 mandate, for example, that returning students at all of the county’s districts wear face masks not only indoors but also outside at recess, and that school employees upgrade to medical-grade N95 or KN95 face coverings.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has reiterated that the state is “committed” to keeping classrooms open and promised last month to make home testing kits “available to every K-12 public school student as they head back to the classroom from winter break.”
However, not all districts received their allotment of tests by Monday. San Francisco schools have increased mobile testing sites in the city. Students are strongly advised to take tests before returning to school, as they won’t receive their state-issued tests until later in the week.
Mr. Cherniss of Palos Verdes said that Omicron concerns almost caused the district to delay its reopening for the week ahead. Parents were furious when he stated that he was looking into it. The district eventually reopened as planned, but encouraged students to take a test before returning.
“We did a big push over the weekend,” he said. “We handed out 2,000 home tests in less than three hours and did another 2,000 live tests. More than 100 were positive.”
Source: NY Times