LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Exactly one week after reopening its campus for in-person learning, Los Alamitos High School officials informed parents that a student has tested positive to COVID-19 on campus.
Los Alamitos High School Interim Principal Gregg Stone sent a letter to the parents of students who may have been exposed to the student with a positive case on Tuesday, Oct. 6 and the next step protocols the school plans to follow. No name or description of the student was given in the two-page letter.
“I am writing to inform you that we have recently received information about a student with a confirmed case of COVID-19,” Stone wrote in the letter. "If you have not been notified that your child had close contact (less than 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with this student, no action is required."
Stone further wrote that the school was going through a “thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the exposed classrooms / locations” as per the guidelines from the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency.
A Spectrum News 1 call to Stone at Los Alamitos High School was referred to the Los Alamitos Unified School District. Spectrum News 1 reached Jerry Friedman, the Los Alamitos Unified School District's director of safety and student services. Friedman said he could not answer any questions and would return this reporter's phone call at a later time.
Phone and email messages to the Orange County Health Care Agency were also not returned as of press time.
The confirmed positive case comes a week after Los Alamitos High School opened its doors to students for in-person learning and was among a wave of other public high schools reopening its brick-and-mortar campuses in Orange County amid the pandemic.
The positive case also further illustrates that children under the age of 18 can be infected with the deadly virus, which has killed more than 1 million worldwide. Further spread of the virus could be a blow to Orange County as it seeks to move down to a lower tier under the state's new color-coded coronavirus monitoring system.
As of Wednesday, Orange County, which is in the red tier and aiming to move to orange to reopen more businesses, has recorded 55,042 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,292 deaths. A breakdown of the case numbers shows that 3,944 of the coronavirus cases were children from the ages of 0 to 17. Only 1 person, a teenage girl with underlying medical conditions, has died in that demographic, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The Los Alamitos Unified School District in Los Alamitos oversees more than 10,000 students at six elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.
The district has been in the news in the past couple of months. In August, the district announced it would lay off 300 employees because of the school closures caused by the pandemic. Later that month, the district was one of 30 schools and the only public school district in Orange County to receive a special waiver from the Orange County Health Care Agency and California Department of Public Health to reopen its elementary school campuses.
The elementary schools reopened in September. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported.
As Orange County’s coronavirus cases trended downward, the district’s middle schools and high school reopened on a hybrid schedule the following month, on Sept. 29.
Now, the district is in the news again, only a week after it reopened. And all eyes will be on how local school administrators deal with a positive student testing for COVID-19 on school grounds and how they plan to keep the other students, teachers, and employees on campus safe.
The school is under no threat to close because of this one case. That will be up to the state’s Department of Public Health. Only multiple cases of COVID-19 among the student body and staff and consultation with the local health agency can close the school, according to a safety pamphlet on the Los Alamitos Unified School District website.
Leading up to the high school reopening, the union representing Los Alamitos High School teachers threatened a work stoppage over concerns that the school district had not done enough to implement safety measures on campus to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Among the teacher’s concerns included proper ventilation inside each classroom and more cleaning staff to disinfect rooms.
The union decided to hold off on a strike but plans to revisit it at a later time, according to the Orange County Register.
A Spectrum News 1 call to the teacher's union was not returned as of press time.
The district has implemented several safety measures to its schools, including a policy that all third-grade students and above wear face masks. Schools also must offer plexiglass office dividers on desks, install more directional walkways, and place mobile handwashing stations at all of its campuses.
Students are not tested at school – the district encourages families to self-screen their child, such as taking their child’s temperature and being aware of any COVID-19 symptoms they may display before going to school.
In a typical year, more than 3,100 students attend Los Alamitos High School.
This year because of the coronavirus, the district gave parents the option for their child to opt in a strictly remote learning environment or participate in a hybrid model, in which students will do distance learning for half a day and go on campus either in the morning or afternoon.
The district did not say how many parents opted for their child to participate in the remote learning option and how many opted for the hybrid or on-campus learning environment.
In the letter to parents, Stone, the Los Al High School principal, reminded parents to keep their child at home if he or she tests positive for COVID-19 or to have the child tested if he or she is showing symptoms.
Stone said the student who tested positive and those in close contact with that person would need to be quarantined for at least two weeks to prevent spreading the virus to a new person. Stone said that school staff would work with those individuals in self-isolation with their lesson plans.
Students that were not notified about coming into contact with the person who tested positive for COVID-19 can return to campus, Stone said.
However, several questions still remain. Stone did not say how the school was informed of the student's positive COVID-19 test, whether it came from the student's parents or the Orange County Health Care Agency.
It also remains to be seen how the school is conducting its contact tracing. How many days was the student at school prior to notification, and how many students or teachers were exposed to the student on campus and outside of it?
Friedman, the district's safety and student services director, did not return Spectrum News 1's call as of press time.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that the Los Alamitos High School was the first high school to reopen in Orange County. Irvine Unified high schools reopened first on Sept. 24. Los Alamitos High School reopened on Sept. 29. The error has been corrected. (Oct. 9, 2020)