Long Beach campuses must stay closed until conditions improve countywide, governor says

As coronavirus cases surge statewide, school campuses will have to remain closed for in-person learning until their counties meet a series of coronavirus-related benchmarks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.

The announcement essentially ties the reopening of Long Beach campuses to conditions across the county. The mandate applies to all K-12 schools, public and private.

Newsom’s directive means it’s likely that most schools across the state will stay online only as the fall semester begins, and when they do reopen, they’ll have to follow strict rules, including all staff and all students above second grade wearing masks.

To be allowed to reopen K-12 campuses, counties must control their local outbreaks well enough that they fall off the state’s monitoring list for rising coronavirus infections, according to Newsom.

Counties get put on the monitoring if they don’t meet certain testing or hospital capacity benchmarks, have more than 100 cases per 1,000 residents, have case positivity rates greater than 8% or have a 10% or more increase in hospitalizations over the past 3 days.

LA County has been a fixture on that list—pulling Long Beach along with it, even though some conditions in Long Beach aren’t as bad as the county as a whole.

Long Beach’s rate of total cases and deaths have tracked below LA County’s. In other areas, Long Beach is behind the county as a whole: Recently, the city’s positivity rate among those tested for the coronavirus has skyrocketed to 15%, which was significantly above the county’s positivity rate of 9%

Long Beach has its own health department and is generally considered a separate health jurisdiction from LA County, but the state announcement on Friday says the school district will be considered part of the county for reopening guidelines.

Newsom’s plan allows school superintendents to apply for waivers that would allow elementary schools to meet in person, but those waivers would have to be approved by local health officials.

Long Beach Unified, like the county, had already planned to be online only when classes resume Sept. 1. The district had planned to keep campuses closed through at least Oct. 5, but that now could stretch longer if the county does not meet state requirements for reopening.

Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Eftychiou said in a statement earlier this week that the district’s closure of  in-person instruction until Oct. 5 is “in line with the governor’s approach.”

“We’re carefully reviewing the latest guidance from the state to determine next steps,” he said. “We’ll continue to work closely with our partners at the local and regional levels, as well as with our teachers’ association and other employee groups to bring back as many students as we can at the right time, keeping health and safety as our top priorities. We’re still planning for multiple contingencies down the road. Those plans include in-person learning, online learning, and some combination of the two.”

When campuses do reopen, Newsom’s guidance says all school staff and all students in grades 3 to 12 will be required to wear face coverings. Younger students will be encouraged but not required to wear masks.

The governor’s strict new regulations marked a dramatic shift from his earlier position that it was up to local school districts and boards to decide when and how to reopen. His announcement comes just weeks before many of the state’s 1,000 school districts return to classes in mid-August, with many still finalizing their reopening plans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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