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L.A. Unified reports first coronavirus outbreak while other schools report multiple infections

Students and parents wear masks in a line outside a school
Students wait to enter a campus last week for the start of school in Los Angeles.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles school officials on Wednesday confirmed the first coronavirus outbreak in the district at Grant Elementary School in Hollywood, sending home an entire classroom of children.

“The cases are concentrated in a single classroom and Los Angeles Unified is fully cooperating with the Department of Public Health,” the district said in a statement. “The district has alerted all those potentially impacted and the quarantined class has been provided with instructional materials to continue their studies.”

An outbreak is defined as three or more cases over 14 days that are likely linked to one another. Wednesday was the eighth day of classes in the nation’s second-largest school system. Up through Tuesday afternoon, the district had reported no cases linked to spread at a school setting since the start of the academic year.

At 10 p.m. Tuesday, the district updated its online dashboard — which reports school-based infections — to record the seven linked cases at Grant. L.A. Unified is conducting the most ambitious school-based coronavirus testing program in the nation, with mandatory testing for all on campus once a week. Officials say this is leading to early detection of cases and allows for quicker action to contain the spread of the virus.

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In all, there are 11 active cases at Grant, according to a district dashboard; some schools have more, but they have not at this time been linked to transmission at the campus. Bell High School in Bell has recorded 20 cases; Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park, 18; Revere Charter Middle School in Pacific Palisades, 16; Harmony Elementary in Historic South-Central, 13.

As of Wednesday, the county health department had not yet listed Grant Elementary as the site of an active outbreak, but it did list 10 other “education settings.”

These included Bishop Amat Memorial High School, a private school in La Puente, which had five staff and 17 student infections. Cheer or dance teams are the source of current outbreaks involving at least 10 individuals at five schools: Castaic High in Castaic, El Monte High in El Monte, South Pasadena High in South Pasadena, Torrance High in Torrance and Sante Fe High in Santa Fe Springs. Another outbreak was associated with the football team at Damien High School in La Verne and Pilavian Family Day Care in Los Angeles.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in recent briefings that poor safety practices were almost universally the cause of outbreaks in youth settings, through such lapses as not wearing masks and not keeping infected individuals isolated. Where safety protocols are followed, transmission at campuses appears to be rare — making the case, she said, both for strong safety practices and for keeping campuses open for in-person classes.

Across California, only one campus has closed since the start of the school year, state officials said Wednesday. They did not name the school, but said that the campus was able to reopen quickly with state assistance.

“Only one school in California closed for only a week, and with help from the state, our rapid testing SWAT team, they have been ready to reopen quite quickly,” state board of education President Linda Darling-Hammond said in a Wednesday webinar for state educators and district officials.

Some school districts have not yet started their academic year.

The latest L.A. Unified tally is 2,304 active cases. During the first week of school, about 6,500 students missed one or more days of class either because of testing positive or because of being a close contact of an infected individual. That works out to about 1 of every 70 students.


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