For hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles kids, summer is officially over. Schools are back in session Monday.
Experts have said a return to in-person learning is safe thanks to a host of protocols for classrooms, staff and students. Still, anxiety remains over the highly contagious Delta variant and some students' ineligibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
LAUSD instituted a requirement that all students and staff undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, regardless of their vaccination status. And all district employees will have to be vaccinated by Oct. 15 or face losing their jobs.
The Board of Directors of the United Teachers Los Angeles union voted to support the vaccination mandate.
“I am the parent of an LAUSD fifth-grader, and my family has been going through the same uncertainty and anguish as so many other families as we approach the return to school,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz.
“Because of the protocols that UTLA educators and LAUSD families fought for and won, L.A. Unified has among the strictest COVID safety protocols in the country. But this Delta variant is unlike anything we have seen so far in this crisis — especially its impact on children — and we all need to step up to do our part to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
Despite the support of the teachers union, there is concern over sending kids back to school during the Delta variant surge. Medical expert Dr. Lucy McBride said families should be realistic about the risks, but that California vaccination rates provide some extra protection.
“If I was a parent of an unvaccinated child in Texas right now where ICU beds are short, I would be terrified. But when you’ve been vaccinated and your kids are surrounded by vaccinated adults, we have the luxury of being a little bit less anxious,” said McBride.
“Part of this is about managing our anxiety like we manage risk, not to say that anxiety isn’t warranted or justified.”
Elementary school kids, however, still can not receive a COVID-19 vaccination. L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said vaccinated staff and older students on campus help protect kids too young to receive their own vaccinations.
“In L.A. County, over 60 percent of the entire population now has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among 12 and older, it's 70 percent in L.A. County,” said Ferrer.
“Those vaccines are super powerful, so we are going to really benefit from all of the vaccinated people that are surrounding us and that are surrounding our children that aren’t yet able to get vaccinated.”
Ferrer has said she does not expect major outbreaks at schools.
To reduce the risk for more children, a Southern California epidemiologist has called on the FDA to approve the shots for kids in the 4th grade and older.
As kids head back inside classrooms today, only students aged 12 and up, meaning 6th graders, are allowed to get the Pfizer vaccine.
“It would make 8 million American children eligible overnight to drop the age to 10. I don’t think it needs that much more study when you weigh the benefits against the risk,” said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine epidemiologist.
Just more than 422,000 L.A. County kids ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated. Most of the vaccinated children live in wealthier communities, according to the county’s public health data.