The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announced a new policy this week requiring every student, teacher, and staffer returning to campus to take part in weekly COVID-19 testing, regardless of vaccination status.
LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest public school system, has about 75,000 employees serving more than 600,000 K-12 students. It had previously required coronavirus testing only for those who have not been fully vaccinated. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for inoculation.
Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly broke the news in a letter to parents on Thursday.
“As part of our efforts to maintain the safest possible environment for students and employees, we are closely monitoring evolving health conditions and adapting our response in preparation for our full return to in-person learning on August 16,” wrote Reilly.
“All students and employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, returning for in-person instruction must participate in baseline and ongoing weekly COVID testing,” she continued. “This is in accordance with the most recent guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.”
The Los Angeles Times pointed out, “The county health department does not require testing those at schools who are vaccinated, but it permits local school systems to adopt a more stringent testing policy.”
Baseline testing for those returning to campus begins on Monday, August 2.
According to The Times, the deadline for families to choose distance learning and remain off-campus was Friday.
On Friday, county health officials reported 3,606 new COVID-19 cases, 991 infected people hospitalized, and five deaths. The recent increase in transmission has been attributed to the highly infectious delta variant.
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Thursday that the department was not considering an order to close schools and emphasized vaccination is the best strategy to curb infection rates.
The most recent data from the health department indicates 45.8% of children ages 12-15 have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 58.3% of 16 and 17-year-olds have had at least one shot.
“It’s crystal clear that vaccination rates among younger people across the board in L.A. County are much lower than they are for older people, and with more opportunities for intermingling,” Ferrer said on Thursday.
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union representing more than 33,000 district employees, issued a statement supporting the weekly testing.
“Vaccines are like seatbelts: necessary but not invincible,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz, per the LA Times. “Just like we need seatbelts, airbags, and speed limits, we need masks, ventilation, and testing to keep school communities safe.”
Interim Superintendent Reilly said LAUSD officials believe the district “has the highest COVID safety standards of any public school district in the nation.”
In addition to mandatory weekly testing, she emphasized the district’s mask requirement, physical distancing measures, upgraded air filtration systems, and thorough sanitation efforts, such as frequent hand washing.