LA County could be weeks away from allowing younger students to return to the classroom, officials say

Falling COVID-19 case counts may lead to schools reopening in-person instruction for younger students in a matter of weeks, county public health officials said Tuesday.

The county must have an adjusted average daily new case rate of 25 per 100,000 residents to allow students in pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade to return to class.

As of Tuesday, the county’s state-adjusted rate was 31.7 per 100,000 residents. Long Beach, which has its own health department, on Tuesday reported a case rate of 35.5 per 100,000 residents.

“We are only weeks away from reducing transmission in L.A. County to a level where elementary schools will be allowed by the state to offer in-class instruction, provided they adhere to all state and county directives,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Schools that decide to open will need to require masking, distancing and routine testing.”

Long Beach school leaders have signaled to principals and staff at elementary schools that a March 1 date is still the plan for students through fifth-grade, provided that COVID-19 numbers keep dropping after the recent winter surge.

Long Beach on Tuesday reported 168 new cases of COVID-19, a significant drop from caseloads a month ago that were roughly four times as high.

The death rate remains elevated, however. The city reported another five deaths on Tuesday, two of them associated with skilled nursing facilities.

Meanwhile, more than 200 additional COVID-19 deaths were announced in Los Angeles County Tuesday as the winter surge continued to claim lives, but case numbers also continued to decline and the population of virus patients in hospitals dipped below 4,000.

The county Department of Public Health reported 227 deaths on Tuesday, although 11 of those fatalities were actually announced late Monday by Pasadena and Long Beach health officials. The new fatalities lifted the countywide death toll from throughout the pandemic to 18,360.

Long Beach has reported a total of 727 deaths and close to 50,000 cases since the pandemic began in March.

The county reported another 3,353 virus cases—a high number but well below the peak of about 15,000 daily cases seen in early January. The new cases gave the county an overall pandemic case total of 1,152,239.

According to state figures, the number of people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 fell to 3,973 as of Tuesday, with 1,159 of them in intensive care. In early January, there were regularly more than 8,000 people hospitalized due to the virus.

The county Department of Health Services reported 804 available hospital beds as of Tuesday, including 58 adult ICU beds and 24 pediatric ICU beds. DHS Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Monday the situation in hospitals was improving, but patient volumes are still well above the level seen during the COVID surge last summer.

Given the incubation period of the virus, health officials won’t know for about two weeks if Sunday’s Super Bowl causes another jump in infections due to people gathering for game-watch parties. But authorities are already issuing warnings about this weekend’s combination of Valentine’s Day and President’s Day holiday, urging people to again avoid large gatherings with people from other households.

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