INGLEWOOD, Calif. (CNS) — The Los Angeles Unified School District Wednesday opened its first school-based COVID-19 vaccination center, while also announcing a proposal to operate a large-scale vaccine site at SoFi Stadium dedicated to inoculating public and private school teachers and staff, when they become eligible.
The school-based LAUSD vaccination center opened Wednesday morning at Roybal Learning Center, 1200 Colton St., near downtown Los Angeles. Moderna vaccines will be administered at the site by LAUSD school nurses and other licensed health care professionals to people eligible for the shots -- health care workers and those over age 65.
The district on Wednesday also announced a proposal to operate a large- scale vaccination site in conjunction with the Rams at SoFi Stadium, serving public and private school teachers, administrators and school staff, who will become eligible for shots on March 1.
"Returning students, teachers and staff to campus in the safest way possible is essential to the well-being of our entire community," Superintendent Austin Beutner said. "A bus driver takes students to school, a principal unlocks the front door, a teacher leads in the classroom, a cafeteria worker prepares lunch and a custodian keeps the school clean. They're all connected at school. A dedicated vaccination site and comprehensive effort for the education community would allow schools to reopen sooner and in a more coordinated manner."
The district sent a letter to the county Department of Public Health this week in conjunction with Anthem Blue Cross and Cedars-Sinai seeking authorization to operate the site. The proposal was submitted with the support of the Rams, who play at the stadium in Inglewood.
"In speaking with Superintendent Beutner and Inglewood Mayor (James) Butts about how we can best support our community during this time, it became clear that assisting schools to reopen safely would have wide-ranging impacts for all Angelenos," Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff said. "We are grateful to all our partners who have come together to develop a game plan that would allow us to operate this vaccination site at Hollywood Park safely and efficiently and serve educators all across the county."
Under the district's proposal, 600 LAUSD school nurses and other licensed health care professionals would administer the shots, supplemented by volunteer clinical personnel from Anthem. Cedars-Sinai staff would provide training for the workers at the site. The district estimated that the site could vaccinate more than 10,000 people per day.
Getting teachers vaccinated will be key to LAUSD being able to resume in-person instruction, since the district and the teachers union want educators and staff to receive the shots before returning to campuses.
The county plans to expand the availability of vaccinations on March 1 to various classes of essential workers, including teachers. Also eligible will be child care workers, food and agricultural workers, including grocery story workers, and those in emergency services and law enforcement.
Those groups include at least 1.8 million people, and given the county's limited supply of vaccine, it will take weeks if not months to get all of them vaccinated.
On Tuesday, the county's rate of new COVID-19 cases dropped low enough to allow schools to resume in-person classes for students in pre- kindergarten through sixth grade. The county's case rate dropped to an average of 20 new cases per 100,000 residents, easily meeting the state threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.
Although meeting the threshold allows elementary schools to reopen, it does not require them to do so. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday that about a dozen of the 80 school districts in the county have already had reopening plans approved, and plans for two more districts were being reviewed.
A total of 173 private or charter schools have also had plans approved, with seven other private/charters awaiting approval of their plans.
Ferrer noted that LAUSD is among the districts that have had safety plans approved. The others, according to the county's website, are ABC Unified, Compton Unified, La Canada Unified, Palmdale, San Marino Unified, Saugus Union, Temple City Unified, West Covina Unified, Westside Union and Wiseburn Unified.
LAUSD, however, will not be immediately returning to in-person instruction, given the demand by United Teachers Los Angeles that teachers and school staff be vaccinated first. The union also wants campuses to remain closed until the county's COVID case rate drops to seven cases per 100,000 residents — low enough to move the county out of the restrictive "purple" tier of the state's economic reopening roadmap.
The union issued a statement Tuesday saying reopening schools while the county is still in the "purple" tier will "almost certainly lead to an increase in infections and school closures, creating even more instability and frustration."
"Resuming in-person instruction when cases are so high and without proper health and safety protocols will result in a yo-yo effect of closures, upending the very educational stability that our students and communities deserve," UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said.
Beutner supports the union call for vaccinations, noting in a statement Wednesday that while the overall county case rate is down, COVID remains rampant in many of the lower-income communities that LAUSD serves.
"In the communities we serve, 80% of the families live in poverty, more than 80% of the families are Black and Latino and the rates of infection are significantly higher," he said.
Campuses in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District also won't be opening right away. A tentative labor agreement between the district and its teachers union states that "vaccines must be available to teachers and campus staff for a period of 15 days prior to students returning." That clause will keep the district's campuses closed until at least mid-March.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued school- reopening guidelines last week, stating that vaccinations for teachers should not be a pre-requisite for in-person learning to resume. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has proposed a $6.6 billion plan for reopening campuses and providing funding for safety protocols on campuses, has also said schools can reopen before teachers and staff are vaccinated.
Ferrer said Tuesday she respects the need for districts to make reopening decisions in partnership with parents and labor groups.
"I've always said the decision to open a school gets made by that school community," Ferrer said. "There's no way to open schools without teachers and staff feeling comfortable being in buildings, and without parents being comfortable about sending their children. So this is a pathway forward when there's a school community that feels like this is the time for them to be able to reopen."
She said she was confident that if schools adhere to required safety protocols, the risk of infection is low. She noted that more than 2,200 schools have had some form of in-person offerings — such as child care, instruction for high-needs students and under waivers for the youngest students — since September, and infections have been relatively rare, with 86 outbreaks of three or more cases reported in that five-month period. Most of those outbreaks occurred during the severe winter surge in cases countywide.
Beutner, who has supported UTLA in its call for vaccinations for teachers, said Monday that beyond that issue, the district has done its part in comprehensively ensuring that every campus is safe and ready to welcome back students, including:
- retrofitting 80 million square feet of school buildings to make sure air is properly filtered;
- cleaning and sanitizing every room in every school;
- providing masks and PPE;
- reconfiguring classrooms and facilities to maintain social distance; and
- creating a school-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program.
Ferrer said schools that want to reopen will have to enforce face-covering and social distancing requirements, and students will be limited to small, fixed groups, meaning students will be with the same group of classmates, with no interaction with other groups of students. Schools will also have to maintain regular testing programs, have approved ventilation systems and must immediately report any outbreaks of three infections that occur within a 14-day period.
Any schools that do reopen will also have to maintain a remote-learning option for families still wary about sending their children back to campus.
In-person classes cannot resume for grades seven through 12 until the county's rate of new COVID cases falls to seven per 100,000 residents.