COVID-19 case rates climb in students and teachers across local districts, mirroring county

Principal Jill Van Der Linden, left, welcomes parents.
Principal Jill Van Der Linden, left, welcomes parents and students back to campus for the first day of instruction at Lake View Elementary School earlier this school year.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

With class back in session after winter vacation, campuses across local public school districts are grappling with a surge in reported coronavirus cases among both students and staff, mirroring trends up and down the rest of the state.

Nearly all local school district officials confirmed Thursday that there are no intentions to close their campuses and return to digital learning, but some have acknowledged teaching shortages and the growing number of coronavirus cases.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District just issued guidance suspending visitors and volunteers from coming onto campuses until Jan. 24 to limit exposure.

“We’ve had less staff on campus, but we’re making it work,” said Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Annette Franco. “We’re making sure appropriately qualified people are teaching in our classrooms, but we’re really pushing for folks to stay at home when they’re sick whether it’s our staff or our students.”

“Our goal is to keep schools open and continue in-person instruction,” said Franco.

On Thursday, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District reported 336 cases of the coronavirus across its elementary, middle and high school campuses with highs of 53 and 51 cases among staff and students reported at Costa Mesa Middle and High School and Newport Harbor High School respectively. Twenty-seven other cases were reported at other, unspecified district facilities. This accounts for 1.7% of the district’s collective population.

This is up from the 91 confirmed cases reported on Tuesday and the 31 reported in earlier this week on Monday.

Franco said the numbers reflect only the confirmed cases that have been reported into the district.

A number of the take-home COVID-19 antigen tests distributed to the Ocean View School District.
A number of the take-home COVID-19 antigen tests distributed to the Ocean View School District through the state. The district received about 40% of its allocation and will be distributing at campuses at 3 p.m. Friday.
(Courtesy of the Ocean View School District)

There were 64 staff cases and 238 cases reported on Monday in the Huntington Beach Union High School District, where at least 70 of those student cases are at Edison High School and both Marina and Westminster high schools reporting 52 cases each.

In the Laguna Beach Unified School District, there are 163 student and staff cases currently in isolation or quarantine with the majority of cases reported at Laguna Beach High School. Meanwhile, the Fountain Valley School District reported 46 student cases and nine confirmed staff cases at its campuses on Thursday.

No cases were reported in the Huntington Beach City School District as of Monday. Spokeswoman Adriana Angulo said the district’s COVID dashboard is updated on a weekly basis and that the district did not track data over the winter break. Any data reported since their return will appear in the next update on Monday, Angulo said.

The Ocean View School District reported 189 current confirmed student cases and 68 confirmed cases among staff, but district Board of Trustees President Gina Clayton-Tarvin confirmed Thursday that about 15% — 1,006 — of the district’s students were reported absent on Monday.

“Eighty-five percent were present. On a typical Monday, we would have 93% students present, which is about 475 absences. That’s just average for us over the decades that the Ocean View School District has been operating,” said Clayton-Tarvin. “We had 44 teachers absent, which is about 12% of our teaching staff. And, 35 of our classified staff out — probably around 8 to 10%.”

“This Omicron variant is so contagious, but it’s not just people getting sick. It’s parents being responsible and keeping their kids at home, but having no access to tests and going, ‘I’d rather be safe than sorry,’” said Clayton-Tarvin, adding that the district has hired 35 teachers both this school year and last to decrease class sizes so students could physically be spread out farther.

To date, Orange County health officials reported a total of 8,723 cases among student and staff at schools since it began tracking data in August 2020. At least 12 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in children younger than 12 and 13 cases in those between the ages of 12 and 17 as of data received Thursday.

Meanwhile, getting tests distributed to students has been affected by delays from the state. The Orange County Department of Education said Thursday that more than 191,000 rapid antigen test kits were delivered but that the county needs 456,572 to get a test in the hands of every public school student in the county and it is unclear when the next shipment will arrive.

Meanwhile, the county itself has seen strain on its testing channels amid the Omicron surge. The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 6,266 new cases on Thursday.

Laguna Beach school officials said they have received around 40% of their district’s allocation for rapid test kits provided by the state and spokeswoman Shelley Spessard said distribution will begin on Friday, starting at 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and again on Monday on a first come, first serve basis for families with students only.

Only parents or guardians with valid IDs will be able to pick up a test at the district’s office on 550 Blumont St.

Newport-Mesa Unified and the Ocean View school districts confirmed Thursday receiving a partial shipment of tests and said they would be distributing them through their campuses.

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