LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Rapid COVID-19 tests for Orange County students are coming. Just don't ask when they'll arrive.
With some OC schools already in session and others preparing to return, several school officials have notified parents that they will provide free COVID-19 at-home test kits as part of an effort to slow the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
The only problem? No one knows precisely when those tests kits will arrive at the Orange County Department of Education, which will then distribute the tests to school districts countywide.
"We are still waiting on the tests to arrive from the state," said Nichole Pichardo, a spokeswoman at the OC Department of Education, in an email to Spectrum News on Tuesday. "Weather is said to be a factor, and it sounds like other Southern California County Offices of Education have yet to receive their kits as well."
The waiting games come as some students return from the winter holiday break and assemble once again on campuses to resume the school year. However, skyrocketing positive coronavirus cases due to its highly contagious omicron variant in OC and Southern California has many parents anxious and school officials concerned.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported an additional 5,900 coronavirus cases, bringing the county's total to 357,520.
Demand for testing for COVID is up, with many scrambling to find at-home tests or lining up for hours to get themselves or their children tested before the school year.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health have said that school districts would receive free at-home COVID-19 tests for their students.
The state purchased 6 million tests, but only half have been shipped, the LA Times reported. Meanwhile, 1.5 million are heading to unknown school districts in the state, and the other half should arrive at the rest of the school districts by Monday.
According to Pichardo, OC expects to receive nearly 457,000 COVID-19 tests, including 20,861 for charters schools. Pichardo said the number of tests ordered is based on the county's 2020-2021 enrollment data.
"Once the shipments arrive at OCDE — again, weather challenges have so far contributed to uncertain timelines — participating schools and districts will have an opportunity to pick up kits and offer them to families," she said.
Pichardo added that there would be at least one test for every public school student, but most students in the state will get a box with two tests.
"That will allow each student to be tested twice as they return to school in January," she said.
Neither the state nor any school districts are requiring students to get tested or receive a documented negative test before returning to school.
The free at-home test kits are just a way for parents to take precautions.
Until the tests arrive, school districts countywide are assuring parents that they are monitoring the situation and committing to continuing in-person learning.
"Should a situation arise where we're seeing high rates of in-school transmission or experiencing operational challenges (such as our ability to maintain sufficient staff to provide in-person instruction) due to COVID-19, we will work with local public health officials to make decisions that support the health and safety as well as continuity of learning for our students," Anaheim Union High School District officials posted on their official Facebook page. "We understand this is a time of uncertainty and concern. We will work through this together to keep our students, families, and staff safe."