Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Sunday the launch of a program that will provide regular COVID-19 testing and contact tracing to school staff, students and their families.
As part of the plan, research will begin to study the impact and effects of reopening, and that data will be available to the general public, Beutner announced.
"Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary actions, and while this testing and contact-tracing effort is unprecedented, it is necessary and appropriate," Beutner said. "This will provide a public health benefit to the school community as well as the greater Los Angeles area.
"This program will also provide significant education benefits for students by getting them back to school sooner and safer and keeping them there. We hope this effort also will provide learnings which can benefit other school systems and communities across the nation as we all combat this pandemic."
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Los Angeles Unified begins the program Monday with a focus on carefully fine-tuning systems and operational logistics as the new school year starts. Tests first will be provided to staff already working at schools and their children, utilizing childcare the district is offering to staff at schools.
Testing then will be provided to all staff and students over time. The goal in the early phase is to establish a baseline. After that, there will be periodic testing of staff and students. The frequency and schedule for that testing will be set after the initial testing phase based on epidemiological modeling.
The spread of COVID-19 in the Los Angeles area far exceeds guidelines from the state governing the possible return of students to school campuses. Any decision about the return of students to schools is some time away, the statement acknowledged. The launch of the program is designed to be a system that will be built and tested, and provide a base of knowledge to help prepare for an eventual return to school campuses.
Testing also will be provided to household members of students and staff who test positive for the virus and household members who show symptoms. These measures will be implemented to help get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety the entire school community. It is also designed to help keep them there if an isolated outbreak were to occur.
"Since schools were closed, science has been our guide and science creates the foundation for this effort," Beutner said. "This collaboration is the result of months of around-the-clock work by many, and I'm grateful for their efforts to get us to this point."
The testing and contact-tracing program and its corresponding research are a collaboration between LAUSD and scientists from UCLA, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Microsoft and healthcare companies Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net. They will be part of a task force co-chaired by Beutner and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Strategic interpretation of the evidence on testing and epidemiological modeling will be provided by Johns Hopkins, Stanford and UCLA, which are providing their services pro bono.
"UCLA will bring breadth and depth of scientific expertise to study the impact and effects of Los Angeles Unified's reopening plan and to share the information learned from these research efforts throughout the world," said Dr. Steven M. Dubinett, Director of the UCLA Clinical & Translational Science Institute.