After nearly a year of virtual learning, Los Angeles County elementary schools are now on-track to reopen.
In-person instruction has been largely unavailable to most of the roughly 1.5 million students in public and private schools countywide since March 2020, but Tuesday the state announced permission for elementary schools preschool to sixth grade as the new daily COVID-19 case rate of 25 per 100,000 residents was reached -- LA County met that threshold Tuesday, when new state figures put the county's case average at 20 per 100,000 residents.
However, just because the schools have been given the green light doesn't mean they will open. As it stands, in Los Angeles Unified School District -- the largest of about 80 school districts, the LA teachers' union is demanding vaccinations before returning.
"School districts will really need to think about what makes sense for their districts," The county's public health director, Barbara Ferrer says.
Those schools that do decide to reopen will need to meet a series of safety protocols -- such as limited class sizes and provision of protective equipment -- while also continuing to offer a distance learning option to accommodate families wary of sending their children to in-person classes.
Ferrer, says statistics indicate schools are not "high-risk settings" for COVID-19 transmission. She notes that more than 2,200 campuses in the county have partially reopened since September and outbreaks have been "relatively rare."
Ultimately, each district will decide when and how to open.
"We obviously feel confident that, if the protocols in place are adhered to all of the time, it creates a lot of safety in the school environment or we wouldn't be recommending that schools can be reopened," Ferrer says.
The county plans to expand vaccine eligibility to teachers and other school staff, along with other groups of essential workers, on March 1. That means up to another 1.5 million people could be competing for the extremely limited supply of vaccine.
While the hundreds of vaccination sites around the county could be giving out well over 600,000 shots per week, Ferrer says the county's getting only about 200,000 doses.