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TK-6 schools seeking reopening waivers could use testing super site being built at O.C. fairgrounds

A test kit is passed through the car window at the Anaheim Convention Center.
A COVID-19 test kit is passed through the car window at the Anaheim Convention Center. County officials announced a second center is being built at Costa Mesa’s O.C. fairgrounds.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

A second coronavirus testing super site will soon open at Costa Mesa’s shuttered O.C. fairgrounds to increase countywide testing capacity and accommodate elementary schools seeking waivers from the state to resume in-person TK-6 instruction in the upcoming school year.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors announced the plan in a meeting Tuesday, agreeing to allow school officials, students and staff who may be exhibiting symptoms or who may have been exposed to the virus to make use of the free county-run testing sites.

A super site at the Anaheim Convention Center has administered more than 10,000 tests since July 15. Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who authored Tuesday’s motion alongside fellow Supervisor Andrew Do said letting schools use the sites would facilitate the waiver application process.

 COVID-19 testing at the Anaheim Convention Center on July 15, 2020.
The O.C. Board of Supervisors says it will let TK-6 schools use county-run coronavirus testing facilities if they are seeking a waiver from the state to resume in-person classes. A testing super site is being planned in Costa Mesa.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“What this does is provide a critical component that allows schools to reopen, should they choose to,” Chaffee said. “There should be more than one [testing] site — the planning of it is already in the works.”

The move follows new guidelines released last week by the California Department of Public Health allowing TK-6 elementary school classes in counties that have been off a statewide coronavirus monitoring list for at least 14 days to apply for a waiver to reopen physical campuses for those grade levels.

“COVID-related risks in schools serving elementary-age students (grades TK-6) are lower and different from risks to staff and to students in schools serving older students,” the Aug. 3 notice stated. “There appears to be lower risk of child-to-child or child-to-adult transmission in children under age 12, and the risk of infection and serious illness in elementary school children is particularly low.”

The county landed on the state’s watch list June 29, following a surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations but has begun to report declines in both.

County health officials on Friday reported 683 new cases, for a countywide total of 42,854 and a rate of about nearly 122 cases per 100,000 residents. Another 20 deaths bring the total number of fatalities to 789.

About 436 people were being hospitalized with COVID-19, while 152 were in ICU units — on July 14, 722 patients were being treated, with 238 in the ICU.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said Thursday that while the local coronavirus outlook is promising, the fact that the technical issue regarding COVID-19 test results occurred at all is a concern.

The Orange County Health Care Agency began accepting school waiver applications on Aug. 4, and in seven days, more than 50 sites had applied, most of them private, religious or charter schools.

Still, it’s uncertain whether or when Orange County will be removed from the watch list — a Department of Public Health representative said Friday updates to the list have been “currently paused while we work through the backlog of data from technical issues with the state’s CalREDIE reporting system.”

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and acting county health officer, said officials have calculated data and “see a trend where we will probably be off the list.”

“Even if we were off the list, it would take 14 days before schools could reopen,” Chau said Friday by email. “But the problem is, even if our numbers are good for a number of days, [if] we have a jump over the state threshold, we would have to restart the clock.”

Do said whenever schools are allowed reopen, they’ll need to ensure teachers, students and staff can be regularly tested. Increasing the county’s capacity and allowing schools access to testing will help them meet state requirements that otherwise would be too steep.

“School districts aren’t in the business of doing testing — they’re not geared up for that,” Do said Friday.

To be granted a waiver, schools must provide tests for the symptomatic and potentially exposed with reasonable turnaround times. They must also periodically test asymptomatic individuals.

UC Irvine has partnered with health officials and advocacy groups to teach community members how to conduct contact tracing in the neighborhoods where they live and work.

Do estimated the county’s testing site at the Anaheim Convention Center typically offers results in 24 to 36 hours.

Waiver-seeking schools and districts must attest they’ve consulted with labor, parent and community organizations. They must also publish on their websites a reopening plan highlighting protocols on cleaning and disinfection, reduced class sizes, face coverings and social distancing and health screenings, among others.

With the new school year approaching, plans for a new testing super site at Costa Mesa’s O.C. fairgrounds are already shaping up.

OC Fair & Event Center spokeswoman Terry Moore confirmed the new site is tentatively scheduled to open on Aug. 24. Testing is by appointment only and will take place Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths by city:

Santa Ana: 8,362 cases; 204 deaths

Anaheim: 7,306 cases; 184 deaths

Huntington Beach: 1,898 cases; 56 deaths

Costa Mesa: 1,405 cases; 14 deaths

Irvine: 1,312 cases; 14 deaths

Newport Beach: 934 cases; 14 deaths

Fountain Valley: 409 cases; 8 deaths

Laguna Beach: 150 cases; fewer than five deaths

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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