The Los Angeles Unified School District has the support of the county’s highest public official for its recent decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine for all eligible students — and she encouraged other students to get inoculated too.
Barbara Ferrer, the director of the LA County Public Health Department, lauded the move by LAUSD’s Board of Education during a Thursday afternoon, Sept. 9, press conference, at which she also said she remained optimistic that students can attend school safely, especially with inoculations. The vaccines, she said, are the most effective way to curb the virus’s spread.
“We support the actions they’re taking to add an additional layer of protection at schools,” she said at the press conference. “(The vaccine) helps keep students, teachers and staff in schools.”
Vaccinating students has become a flashpoint in pandemic debates nationwide. And conversations about mandating vaccines for students returning to campus have picked up in recent weeks, including in Los Angeles County, as school districts begin their academic years and the highly transmissible delta variant continues spreading.
LAUSD on Thursday became the largest school district in the nation to require the COVID-19 vaccine for all students 12 and older and the second district in the county after Culver City Unified. LAUSD students involved in in-person extra-curricular activities must receive their first dose by Oct. 3 and their second by Oct. 31. All other district students over 12 must receive their first dose by Nov. 21 and their second by Dec. 19.
Other districts could follow suit and, Ferrer said, the health department will consult with local education officials as “they contemplate and take critical actions to protect students and staff from a dangerous, deadly and highly infectious virus,” she said.
Overall, coronavirus cases among students in L.A. County continue to rise, but remain low across the board.
The county logged 7,784 positive cases among students across all schools in L.A. County and 1,250 positive staff members from Aug. 15 to Sept. 7, Ferrer said. But that’s only 0.5% of the student body and 0.7% of faculty that have been infected since school districts reopened.
During that timeframe, 570 schools reported one case; 260 reported two cases, and 1,032 reported three cases.
Those cases, though, have sometimes been clustered, forcing entire grades at some schools — including one in Manhattan Beach — to quarantine at home.
“This does not imply that the infections happened at schools,” Ferrer said. “Many of these infections happened before students came to school, and some of these infections are also due to the high rates of community transmission, exposures outside schools and in homes.”
Still, infections will likely continue growing on campuses, especially among the youngest students, since those under 12 are not eligible for the vaccines.
Countywide, 1.3 million children are not eligible for the vaccine, Ferrer said, and that the delta variant can infect children.
Children under the age of 18 represented 27% of positive cases this week, which is higher than it’s been, Ferrer said.
But 12- to 17-year-old children who have been vaccinated have far lower rates of being hospitalized than their unvaccinated counterparts, she said.
“I feel like a broken record on this,” she said on the importance of getting the vaccine.
“Among children in this oldest age group, where some are vaccinated and some are not,” Ferrer added, “we see just how powerfully protective the vaccines really are.”
So far, 62% of L.A. County residents between the ages of 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 51% are fully vaccinated. Nearly 70% of 16- and 17-year-olds in the county are partially vaccinated and 59% are fully vaccinated, Ferrer said.
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Beyond vaccinations, Ferrer said, face coverings and contact tracing can also help keep students safe in schools.
But Ferrer also encouraged parents — including those concerned about getting the vaccine for their children — to talk to their pediatricians or family practice doctors.
“There are millions and millions of teens that have been vaccinated,” she said. “Vaccines even among younger-aged teens have a great safety record.”
Ferrer on Thursday also gave some hope to parents concerned about how quarantining and the subsequent independent study requirements could harm their children’s education.
Now that the health department has had four full weeks of COVID-19 data from schools, Ferrer said, she will look next week at potentially loosening the requirements over quarantining if a student comes in contact with a COVID-19-positive student.
Health officials will meet with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, she said, and consider whether those requirements should follow state or federal guidelines for quarantining.