Education

LAUSD Launches COVID-19 Testing for Students and Staff

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It's not clear when students will be able to return to campus at Los Angeles Unified schools, but the district wants to be ready when that does happen. LAUSD is launching its own COVID-19 testing program Monday.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner believes the key to getting students back to campus is the coronavirus testing program he's been talking about for months.

"This plan, though unprecedented, is necessary and appropriate," Beutner said during a previous news conference.

Since Labor Day, a test run has been underway with the staff and students attending school-based day care.

Younger students will provide saliva samples and nasal swab tests will be provided by older students. Parental consent must be given before the COVID-19 testing is performed.

District administrators believe the 700,000-plus students, 75,000 staffers and family members who may have been exposed to the virus must receive COVID testing in order to safely open campuses.

 "Over the next several weeks, all staff and students will be provided with an initial, baseline test,'' Beutner said. "We will also provide testing for household members of students or staff who test positive for the virus or those who show symptoms.... Once we're closer to the time when students might return to classrooms, there will be a second round of baseline testing for all.''

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Since last Thursday, the district tested more than 2,500 staff members and their children each day with plans to soon test 20,000 people each day. The district has the capacity to eventually test up to 40,000 per day.

Of the 5,400 people tested last week on Thursday and Friday, five people -- or 0.1% -- tested positive for the virus, the district reported.

"One case of the virus quickly becomes many. All students and staff leave school and confusion reigns. The school becomes a haunted house nobody wants to return to," Beutner previously said.

The district's plan is to directly contact anyone who tests positive for the virus or may have come in contact with an individual in their school cohort. LAUSD also plans inform the public about any occurrences at schools.

Reporting any positive results to the LA County Public Health Department is a large component of the testing. The department will assist in contact tracing.

LAUSD Board of Education member Monica Carcia said the testing and
contact tracing effort by the district "is modeling a new standard in creating conditions for learning in 2020.'' She said, "We must be learners and leaders."

Board member Nick Melvoin said he's proud of the way LAUSD continues to innovate in the crisis.

District leaders emphasized that the effort is an enormous and unprecedented undertaking, and they anticipate there will be challenges.

"No other school district in the country has put together an effort like this,'' Beutner said.

Until students are able to return, Beutner said he remains grateful for the teachers and staff who are continuing to increase student engagement online and adapt to virtual classrooms. The district is reporting that 98% of students are now connected with their schools.

A back-to-school app focusing on health and safety has also been launched. The app allows students to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

"I want to give a special shout-out to classroom teachers who, in addition to planning lessons, teaching Zoom classes and providing support to students throughout the crisis, have taken on the task of helping students navigate technology issues, power outages and the like, all with a smile,'' he said. "Thank you for your commitment to students.''

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