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Local Schools Forced To Adapt As Omicron Surge Continues

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) —  As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, local schools have been forced to adapt many times over the course of the last two years, and once again, students across the Southland are once again being forced to flip the script when it comes to their education.

These changes still come in light of countywide numbers that have seen a slight decline over the weekend, as the Los Angeles County Department of Health reported what appeared to be a plateauing daily positivity rate and a decrease in daily case counts, with just 26,354 cases reported on Sunday, nearly half the total reported a week prior - 43,838.

Thousands of those students will be returning to class for in-person learning after UCLA and USC both announced new dates for their returns to campus,  after both universities decided that their Spring semesters were to begin online.

This decision came about largely due to the rapidly surging COVID numbers, fueled by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, which has caused nearly 800,000 reported positive cases since the beginning of the new year.

Culver City Unified School District students are also set to return to the classroom, following a brief return to at-home learning when they both struggled to field a full roster of teachers and saw a drastic increase in positive case numbers as students returned from Winter Break.

Los Angeles Unified School District students are also now required to upgrade the quality of their facemasks, no longer allowed to wear cloth face coverings, they must wear surgical quality masks like N45 or similar varieties. Those same students, which number over 60,000 Los Angeles County residents, were required to turn in a negative test prior to their return to class earlier in January, which caused a drastic overhaul at testing centers throughout the Southland.

Those masks, however, will be provided by the district, a statement on LAUSD's website clarifies the mask update:

"Masking will be required at all times, indoors and outdoors. It is required that all students wear well-fitting, non-cloth masks with a nose wire. All employees are required to wear surgical grade masks or higher. Los Angeles Unified will continue to provide these kinds of masks to students and employees at school sites if they need them. As with the previous masking requirements, this does not apply to students with mask exemptions."

PCC Covid testing
Dozens of vehicles in line as occupants waited to receive COVID-19 tests at Pasadena City College. (Photo Credit: Sky9 Chopper, KCAL9 News)

In similar fashion, Pasadena City College students flooded either of the two testing centers made available by their institution on Sunday, as they also return to in-person lectures beginning on Monday after two weeks of remote learning. The mad dash to get tested within the 72-hours prior to Monday's scheduled start date had many frustrated - from students, to people attempting to drive anywhere within a two-mile radius of the campus.

Lines stretched in up to two-miles in certain areas, as some test takers were required to sit in their vehicles for more than 2-and-a-half hours as they waited to have their test administered.

Kevin Seavers was one student who partook in the testing over the weekend, and he told CBS reporters, that while the actual testing process doesn't take too long as they simply swab your nose, waiting to actually get the tests "took forever."

Another student, who rode her bicycle instead of waiting in line with the cars reported a vastly different experience. "There's two lots, it's really easy. Obviously, it's only for staff and students, but it's very manageable."

Since nearly 60% of PCC's classes are being offered on campus this semester, the university will also require anyone attending those in-person classes to get tested on a weekly basis to prevent an outbreak amongst students, staff and faculty members.

"We have capped our classroom capacity in-person, at 50% this Spring," Alex Boekelheide, Special Assistant to the PCC President detailed on Sunday, "That's an effort to increase social distancing and to accommodate the additional space folks need during this pandemic."

He also made it clear that since so many students are getting ready to head back to class on campus, they're expanding from the two testing sites that were available over the weekend to five, beginning on Monday.

Seavers isn't sure the additional testing locations will ease the strain that he felt on Sunday, "If this week took an hour, and hour-and-a-half, what's next week going to look like when everybody has to do it weekly?"

PCC won't require the students and staff to get tested on campus however, as they can upload any proof of a negative test from an alternative site if it's more accommodating.

With the additional measures being put in place all across the county, and even the state with Government officials expanding the mask mandate for an additional month earlier in January - now extended through February 15 - health experts are exhibiting cautious optimism.

Epidemiologist and Assistant Professor at USC's Keck School of Medicine, Dr. Rita Burke is one of those experts who can see a light at the end of the tunnel that is the Omicron fueled Winter Surge. "It's certainly encouraging," she said.

However, she noted that the only way we can continue trending in the right direction is by taking all the necessary precautions,"We want folks to wear at least a surgical mask, if possible - a KN95 or a N95," she continued in an online meeting on Sunday, "We want them to continue to get vaccinated if they haven't already received their vaccination... get a booster."

On Friday, the L.A. County Department of Public Health reported that 81% of eligible county residents aged 5 and above had received at least one dose of vaccine, while 72% were fully vaccinated. Only 31% of those were fully vaccinated with a booster shot, and of the county's overall 10.3 million population, 76% had received one dose, 68% were fully vaccinated, and
29% were both vaccinated and boosted.

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