At his Friday news conference, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list to shut down school campuses this fall, at least to begin the school year. The 32 counties on the list — which include Los Angeles and most of Southern California — must switch to virtual instruction only. The state’s two largest districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, had already announced plans to begin the new academic year with online-only courses.
The mandate applies to private as well as public schools, according to Newsom.
In order to physically reopen schools, counties will have to meet the state’s attestation requirements. Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Diego and Riverside counties are on the watch list.
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Counties can reopen schools if the region has been off the state monitoring list for 14 days.
The announcement comes as the state saw another sky-high number of new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, at 9,986. That’s up from 8,241 the day before and represents the third-highest one-day total since the pandemic began. Likewise the new count of 130 deaths. That is also the third-highest one-day total in that category since the pandemic began.
For the 26 counties not on the state watchlist, students in grades 3 to 12, along with staff, would be required to wear them. Those who refuse could be sent home for distance-only learning. Kids in grades 2 and under will be encouraged to wear masks.
Staff at those schools must keep 6 feet between themselves and others. Students are encouraged to do the same.
The school day for those campuses that stay open will start with “symptom checks,” including temperature checks. Staff will be tested monthly for coronavirus.
“We all prefer in-class instruction,” said Newsom, “but only if it can be done safely. Safety is foundational.”
Any class that sees one case of COVID-19 will be sent home. An entire school will be sent home if “multiple cohorts” or more than 5 percent of the students test positive. An entire district will be sent home if 25 percent of their campuses are closed within a 14 day period.
He said distance-learning must be “rigorous.”
“We want daily, live interaction with teachers and other students,” said the governor. “Clearly, we have work to do to make sure that we are doing rigorous distance learning.” Newsom said all students must have access to the technology to engage effectively in distance learning. The state allocated $5.3 billion last year to address the issue of “equity in learning,” said Newsom, and those funds will help distance learning.
An L.A. Unified School District report detailed on Thursday revealed that nearly every category of students — sorted by race, income and learning needs — included large numbers who did not regularly participate in distance learning after schools closed physically in March. Low-income students and Black and Latino students showed participation rates between 10 and 20 percentage points lower than white and Asian peers, according to the study as cited by The L.A. Times.
More than 50,000 Black and Latino middle and high school students in Los Angeles did not regularly participate in the school system’s main platform for virtual classrooms after campuses closed in March, reflecting the disparities faced by students of color amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties ahead as the LAUSD prepares for continued online learning, it was reported Thursday.
The LAUSD study examined the period between March 16, the Monday after schools closed, and May 22. It described how students engaged at various levels online. For example, some students simply logged in and did little else. Others only viewed their work. Those whom the report described as “participating” were students who submitted work, took tests, posted on a discussion board or created a message.
Using that measure, the report found that on an average day only about 36 percent of middle and high school students participated online. About 25 percent logged on or viewed work only. And about 40 percent were absent, The Times reported.
“None of us want to see virtual education,” said Newsom. “The more we do [in terms of social distancing, wearing masks, staying home] the quicker these counties come off this list and kids are back in school.”
California now has 366,164 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 7,475 deaths. The number of COVID-related deaths increased by 1.8 percent from the previous total of 7,345. The number of COVID-19 diagnostic test results in California reached a total of 6,044,099, an increase of 128,591 tests day-over-day. The rate of positive tests over the last 14 days is 7.4 percent, which is slightly down. California’s hospitalizations due to COVID-19 increased by 31.
The positivity rate of tests averaged over the past 7 days was 7.1 percent. That’s down from 7.4 percent on Monday but, cautioned the governor, “I’ve gotta just say as a point of caution that those 7-day positivity rates can fluctuate largely.”
Hospitalizations have seen “a 22 increase over the 14-day period,” said Newsom. ICUs are “up about 15 percent” over the past 14 days.
Earlier this week, Newsom ordered all counties to close their restaurants, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, wineries and zoos for indoor service. Bars were to close totally.
“We are moving back into a ‘modification mode’ of our original stay-at-home order,” said Newsom on Monday. “This is a new statewide action, effective today.”
Additionally, L.A. and 31 other counties on the state’s monitoring list must close fitness centers, places of worship, nail and hair salons and indoor malls.
On Thursday, the 14-day average of daily new coronavirus cases in California has broken 8,000 for the first time since the pandemic began. By comparison, one month ago that average was 2,704. That’s a 295 percent increase in 30 days.
The rise is a result of both a steep increase in cases and what have now become regular, near-record spikes in the past 10 days. On July 7, the state saw an all-time high of 11,694 new cases. That was followed by spikes of 11,126 on 7/14 and 8,544 today.
COVID-related deaths in California are also spiking. Thursday’s number of new deaths, 118, is the third-highest total California has seen since the virus hit the state. The two higher results have come in the past week, with 140 yesterday and the all-time high reported last Thursday with 149 lives lost. The previous peak had been 115 deaths.
The school closings place another burden on parents, who must now stay home or hire someone to care for their children, as the state’s unemployment rate sits at 19.4 percent. The 19.4 percent rate is well above the 4.4 percent rate from the pre-coronavirus
era of June 2019.
City News Service contributed to this report.