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LA School District Launches COVID-19 Testing and Tracing Program

  • Los Angeles Unified School District opened the school year with an extensive program aiming to do regular COVID-19 testing and contact tracing with all students and staff as well as families of those who test positive.

    “If we want to keep schools from becoming a petri dish and we want to keep all in the school community safe, we need to test and track at schools,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said in an interview with CNN.

    The aim is to reduce the overall level of the virus in Los Angeles, provide a baseline of information as schools reopen for in-person instruction and help identify and isolate infected individuals in a timely fashion, he said.

    School staff and any of their children participating in child-care programs run by the district were in the first group to be tested. The effort will cost about $300 per student over the course of the school year, according to the district.

    Beutner cited advice from the World Health Organization. “If we want to get control of this virus we have to test, test, test and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” he said.

    Multiple health practices have been put into place to combat the spread of the virus, including symptom checks and screening, modified classroom layouts, physical distancing of at least six feet, face coverings, hygiene measures, electrostatic cleaning, disinfecting of desks, tables, chairs, phones and computers, and the upgrading of air filtration systems to MERV 13 (the equivalent of N-95 masks), according to the district website.

    In addition, everyone connected with the district – teachers, students, families- will be asked to download an app to their phones and computers. The app will contain information on COVID-19 testing as well as symptoms associated with the coronavirus. 

    Los Angeles’ ambitious plan represents a collaboration between the nation’s second largest school district, with more than 600,000 students and 75,000 staff, and multiple partners, including scientists at UCLA, Stanford, Johns Hopkins universities, Microsoft and health care companies Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net. Beutner said the effort would be overseen by himself and Arne Duncan, former U.S. education secretary.

    Kristan Staudenmayer, an associate professor of surgery at Stanford and one of the experts advising Los Angeles, said the district’s approach, if successful, “can help inform school reopening in the rest of the country.” Her remarks were published on the Stanford website.

    “It is clear that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon,” Staudenmayer said. “We have to learn how to live with this disease. That involves innovating ways to live important aspects of our lives as safely as possible, including getting kids back in school. It’s a different era, and we have to accommodate to this new world.”