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Newport-Mesa district crafts plan for new school year as O.C. virus cases, hospitalizations surge

Corona del Mar High School
Newport-Mesa Unified is crafting a plan for how kids may return to school campuses on Aug. 24, while county health officials reported Thursday 506 new coronavirus infections.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Not knowing what the coronavirus pandemic could look like in the coming months, Newport-Mesa Unified School District leaders are crafting a plan for how kids may, or may not, return to campuses when the 2020-21 academic year begins Aug. 24.

District officials have been furiously planning with teachers and staff, getting input from advisory committees and focus groups of parents, students and community members to hash out a plan for the upcoming school year.

Board members on Tuesday approved an instructional model that would include a 100% virtual school option for parents reluctant to send their children back to brick-and-mortar classrooms. Students would be asked to commit to that model for at least one full semester or trimester.

“There are going to be teachers and professional development in place,” NMUSD spokeswoman Annette Franco said of a refined virtual option. “It’s going to be a better education than what we got with emergency distance learning.”

All other students would participate in a three-level “brick and click” plan that would shift in response to changing state, county and local health guidelines — from 100% in-person classes, to 100% distance learning, with a hybrid blend of cohort groups coming to campus twice weekly and learning at home other days in between.

“We would be prepared for all of those levels,” Interim Supt. Russell Lee-Sung said during a June 17 study session on the topic. “We would shift as a district from one level to another, depending on conditions.”

Corona del Mar High School graduates celebrated in a drive-by parade around Fashion Island on Saturday morning. The Newport Beach police and fire departments, as well as Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill, attended the event.

While opinions on mask-wearing and distance learning may vary, stakeholders roundly agree on one thing — no one knows what the future holds.

On Thursday, health officials released yet another grim report on Orange County coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, which have continued to spike in the weeks following mass demonstrations, the reopening of local businesses and the county’s relaxing its stance on mask wearing.

Orange County Health Care Agency officials announced on Thursday 506 new infections had been recorded in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.

Seven newly documented deaths bring the number of countywide fatalities to 306.

Hospitalizations also hit a new high, with 26 area facilities reporting 394 patients being cared for countywide, 147 of whom were being treated in ICU units.

While infections and hospitalizations soared, however, the number of coronavirus tests reported fell to just 817 — the lowest amount since recording began.

Given such a high level of uncertainty, Newport-Mesa district officials are trying to craft a plan for the upcoming school year that allows for as much in-person instruction as possible while keeping students and teachers healthy.

“We all want to return to normalcy,” Lee-Sung said. “We’ve heard that over and over again from everybody. But we can’t jeopardize safety.”

Honoring this year’s graduating seniors from high schools in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach and other parts of Orange County.

Just what the hybrid learning model would look like has yet to be determined. Officials will return to the school board meetings in mid-July and early August with further refinements of the three-level plan and the 100% virtual school option.

While it is still unknown what level of in-person instruction students might be offered under the “brick and click” model in August, district leaders say they are prepared to make an announcement about two weeks before classes begin.

“We may be transitioning throughout the year, depending on government health guidelines, but it’s going to be one of those three models,” Franco said of the first day back.

Coronavirus infection rates, by city

Thursday’s figures bring Orange County’s cumulative coronavirus cases to 11,511, with about 46.2% — an estimated 5,326 — having recovered from the virus.

Here are the latest cumulative case counts for select cities, with numbers per 10,000 residents:

  • Santa Ana: 2,415 (71.5 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Anaheim: 2,207 (61.4 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Huntington Beach: 522 (25.6 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Irvine: 311 (11.1 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Costa Mesa: 258 (22.3 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Newport Beach: 229 (26.3 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Fountain Valley: 98 (17.3 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Laguna Beach: 54 (23.1 cases per 10,000 residents)

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc. For information on getting tested, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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