As Los Angeles County, home to the largest immigrant population in the US, wrestles with the obvious decision to send kids back to school Ethnic Media Services, and County officials shared updates on what the plans are and what to do.
Beginning with opening remarks, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Los Angeles County Supervisor, Fifth District, spoke about the critical need to engage communities with sensitivity to their language and culture. As the county prepares for the reopening of schools five strategies are being employed including wearing masks, employing social distancing, washing of hands, proper ventilation, and a robust quarantine and isolation if tested positive. She expressed the frustration of parents with distance learning and the eagerness parents gave to get kids back to school safely. She concluded by reassuring everyone that the district was working hard to make that happen safely.
Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez, MD, MPH Director of Integrative Medicine, The Wellness Center at LAC+ISC Historic General Hospital gave more updates on the state of the COVID 19 pandemic in LA County. As of March 2, 2021, daily numbers of infections and hospitalizations have dropped even though not to pre-pandemic levels. She updated the blueprint for a safer economy provided more people got vaccinated. She also reported that LA County has crossed the threshold for Red Tier status and the Department of Public Health is working with the County Board of Supervisors to plan additional openings with this new status. Currently, 1.9 million people have been vaccinated and the county is working on increasing that number. She however lamented the continued disproportionality that exists among 65 and older who have received the vaccines. White and Asian are getting more vaccines while Latinx, American Indian, and blacks are lower in numbers. To mitigate this inequality measures are being taken including setting up sites for vaccines in affected communities, collaborating with community leaders, and finding ways to solve transportation access. A study conducted by USC (University of Southern California) showed that more people are now looking forward to taking the vaccines. The report details the percentage of LA County who reported to likely take the vaccine by race and ethnicity. Whites are more likely to take the vaccines, unlike minorities as a result of mistrust. As a result, working with community partners and faith-based organizations was important to change attitudes. It is equally vital to get accurate information. Currently, additional groups have been made eligible for vaccinations including:
- custodians and janitors
- public transit workers
- airport ground crews
As of March 15th eligibility is open to 16-64 who have underlying conditions such as sickness, pregnancy, weakened immune system, obesity, heart conditions, down syndrome, sickle cell, etc. The state is working on how these people can get their eligibility. She reiterated that vaccine doses are allocated based on the county and you will be turned away if you show up and are not determined to be from that county.
Dr. Debra Duardo, Superintendent, LACOE elaborated on the plans for opening schools. Working with all 80npublic schools and 50 charter schools and over 150,000 staff. It’s been over a year since schools closed from in-person learning due to the pandemic which has disproportionately affected communities. Latinx, blacks, and communities of color have been the most affected. Some of the effects include academic loss and trauma from isolation, challenging mental health, and quality of learning. Low-income students and students of color must be taken care of.
As the county moves into the red-tier schools will open in small groups of learners. There is excitement among schools to reopen as 71% are either open or plan to open by April or mid-April. Vaccines for educators are ongoing and available and allocated based on how many students attend a school. It is important to get vaccinated as soon as we become eligible. Some schools have vaccinated all staff and now return leftover vaccines to other districts. Also focusing on expanding partnerships to improve educational systems.
Students’ voices are important as indicated by Nathan Kuo, Student Advisor to LACOE Superintendent, Senior at Arcadia High School. Nathan shared perspectives to the Biden Administration about students’ needs by writing a letter. He shared the need to discuss students’ experiences with distance learning and how different they were. The pandemic has expanded disadvantages to many students. Fortunately, teachers are understanding of these unprecedented times affecting mental health. With all of this, he was looking forward to returning to school safely.