Schools Are Safest Place for Kids from COVID
From left to right: Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor for the First District, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; Debra Duardo, Superintendent of Schools, Los Angeles County; Dr. Nava Yeganeh, MD MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Disease, David Geffen School of Medicine; Dr. Jasmine Eugenio, Chief Physician of Pediatric Services, LA Health Services – Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center
By Mark Hedin, ETHNIC MEDIA SERVICES
Schools in Los Angeles County re-open this week for in-person learning even as a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits U.S.’s least-vaccinated communities.
At an Aug. 4 news conference convened by LA County’s Joint Information Committee, the most important message for worried families in the county’s 80 school districts serving close to 2 million students is simply that they can worry less.
“Schools are one of the safest places children can be to prevent getting sick and to prevent getting COVID,” said Dr. Debra Duardo, Superintendent of the LA County Office of Education.
Eighty percent of the county’s teachers and school staff have been vaccinated, and those who haven’t will be tested frequently, a policy Gov. Gavin Newsom adopted for the entire state shortly after the Aug. 4 briefing.
Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor for District 1, noted that there are more than 770 sites around the county and 330 mobile clinics that offer vaccinations for free, regardless of clients’ immigration or citizenship status.
Specific information on where to get vaccines can be obtained at Vaccinatelacounty.com or by calling: (833) 540-0473.
“Children need to be in school not only for the best quality of instruction but also to address their social, emotional needs and to feel they can be with their friends and teachers in a safe environment,” Duardo said. But, “the health and safety and well-being of our students and our employees is the number one priority.”
“Many in our communities have experienced extreme social isolation, illness, and in the most extreme cases, loss of loved ones.”
So it’s important to maintain “compassion and recognize the trauma so many have experienced.”
“There’s a lot that we’ve learned from this pandemic, how we can make public education better than it was before,” Duardo said. She cited improvements in bridging the digital divide, plans to increase one-on-one tutoring, increased parent engagement and mental health support, summer learning and addressing catching up.
For the approximately 5%-6% of families still uncomfortable with in-school instruction, there will still be the option of “independent study,” the “distance learning” widely practiced in the past 18 months, Duardo said.
Dr. Yava Yeganeh, an infectious disease specialist with the LA County Department of Public Health, noted that with the spread of the Delta variant, Los Angeles County is no longer an area of low transmission.
Nonetheless, she added, “there is a lot of information suggesting that schools can be one of the safest locations as far as COVID-19 transmission goes because our children trust and listen to their teachers.
“For all individuals, and for children specifically when they’re attending school, it’s very important that they have a mask that can cover their nose, mouth, and chin and that it’s comfortable enough that they can wear the entire day.”
“Anyone who’s indoors should mask,” she said. “That’s true in schools, it’s true outside of schools.”
But most importantly, “everyone who’s vaccine-eligible should get vaccinated. That is the number one recommendation we make. That is the most important tool we have to prevent transmissions in school.
“Checking in with your school to see if they’re hosting a vaccine event might be the best way,” she said. “About 140 schools are hosting vaccination events in August.”
Although preliminary testing has been encouraging, pediatric vaccines are still at least months away from being approved, Yeganeh added. “As a pediatrician and as a mother, I wish that vaccine was available to my (young) children as well.”
“We have to prepare our children, that’s the main thing,” said Dr. Jasmine Eugenio, Pediatric Senior Physician with the LA County Department of Health Services and the MLK Outpatient Center in South Los Angeles.
“We need to keep our anxiety in check, but let’s not pretend we’re back to normal.
“A lot of kids didn’t get their vaccines or screening tests on time, doctor and dentist appointments were missed that need to be rescheduled.”
As for COVID-19 vaccines themselves, she said, “It’s important to reassure them that this is a very effective and safe precaution that is necessary.”
“The good news here is that we know this virus well,” Yeganeh said. “We have an effective toolkit. We know we can fight this transmission of this virus using vaccinations, masking when you’re indoors, and then isolating and quarantining if you’re not feeling well or if you’ve been exposed to someone who has been infected.”
“These strategies together will work to create this healthy and safe school environment for our children.”