Los Angeles County’s public health director denied Tuesday that plans for reopening school campuses amid the coronavirus pandemic are politically linked to the upcoming election, saying comments she made on a conference call last week were only referencing an early November time frame.
“It had nothing to do with the election per se, as much as it had to do with — we need about six weeks of implementation for the school openings that are going to be happening so that we can have a lot of assessment data that will help guide and inform any decisions we make,” Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors. ” … I apologize for any confusion that I may have caused by referencing the elections in early November.”
Ferrer sparked a spate of social-media conspiracy theories with comments she made in a conference call last week with local education officials, telling them schools are unlikely to reopen for in-person learning “until after the election” on Nov. 3.
“We don’t realistically anticipate that we would be moving to either tier two or to reopening our K-through-12 schools at least during, at least until after the election, after, you know, in early November,” Ferrer said on the call, a recording of which was first obtained and aired by KFI radio. “Like, when we just look at the timing of everything, it seems to us the more realistic approach to this would be to think that we’re going to be where we are now … until we’re done with the election.”
The comments quickly drew online criticism contending her comments prove the suggestion the coronavirus is being used as a political weapon to harm President Donald Trump’s reelection chances.
Ferrer insisted, however, that her reference to the election was only describing a general time frame of early November in response to a question about the timing of potential additional school openings.
Earlier this month, the county agreed to allow in-person instruction for some students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but only for small groups of students with individualized learning plans, students requiring instruction for English as a second language and students needing other “specialized in- school services.”
Ferrer said Monday that 59 schools had submitted plans to offer such in-person instruction, and about half of them were likely to be operating by this week.
She said public health officials would be working with each school to ensure they are meeting all required safety protocols. All other schools remain closed for in-person learning throughout the county due to the virus.
Speaking to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Ferrer said gauging how successful the schools are in preventing a growing number of cases will be key to the county’s decision whether to open schools more broadly.
One of the most effective ways of limiting the spread of the virus among children has been to keep them in small groups or cohorts to keep the virus from spreading quickly throughout an entire school, Ferrer said.
She added that not enough attention has been given to recent reports that more than half a million American children — including more than 25,000 in Los Angeles County — have tested positive for COVID-19, despite the fact children are tested at lower rates than adults.
Though the vast majority of children do not get seriously ill, hundreds of L.A. County children have been hospitalized with COVID-19, she said, adding that even those without symptoms can spread the infection to other children and adults.
The county’s health services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, who runs the county’s hospital system and coronavirus testing, said the rate of testing has fallen. County officials said the recent poor air quality and extreme heat led to temporary closures of some testing centers, and may have also deterred people from getting tested.
“There continue to be literally thousands of unfilled appointments,” Ghaly told the Board of Supervisors. “We are concerned by the overall decline of people seeking testing throughout the county.”
She urged anyone with symptoms that could be related to COVID-19 to get tested, as well as anyone who has been in contact with a person who has tested positive. Ferrer also urged those who have been in a crowded situation with people without masks to get tested.
Ferrer said Monday the county was unlikely to consider any more business reopenings before the end of September so officials can see if the recent Labor Day holiday leads to spikes in infections seen after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends.
” … We’ve had significant spikes in cases after the holidays, and that has resulted in us needing to sort of take some steps backward,” Ferrer said Monday. “We want to avoid doing that again so we’re going to wait a couple weeks, look at our data, review it with our board. … And we will be getting back to everyone toward the end of the month.”
Since the virus has a two-week incubation period, spikes in possible new cases from increased public exposure over Labor Day weekend would not be reflected in case data for about 14 days.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who chairs the board, said Tuesday the board’s agenda will include a discussion on public health orders each week.
On Tuesday, the county reported 47 more coronavirus-related deaths, while Long Beach health officials announced one fatality, bringing the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 6,274. The county also announced 474 new cases, while Long Beach reported 72 more, pushing the overall total to 255,121. County officials noted that the unusually low daily case number reflects the recent reduced availability of testing due to the heat and air quality.
A total of 772 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Tuesday.
As of today, the number of confirmed infections in West Hollywood has increased by two to a total of 521. The number of people in West Hollywood who have died of COVID-19 related illnesses remains at five.
In Beverly Hills, the number of confirmed has increased by two to 649. The number of COVID-19 related deaths in Beverly Hills remains at 12. The number of COVID-19 infection confirmed among Culver City residents also has increased by two and now totals 376. The number of deaths remains at 29. The Health Department reports three newly confirmed infections in Hollywood, bringing its total to 1142. The number of deaths remains at 14. The Melrose neighborhood has four new confirmed infections, bringing its total to date to 1,829. The number of COVID-19 related deaths remains at 70.
Public Health has a dedicated call line for confirmed cases of COVID-19. If you are positive for COVID-19 and have not yet connected with a public health specialist or need more information on services, call toll-free at 1 (833) 540-0473. Residents who do not have COVID-19 can continue to call 211 for resources or more information.
One way the virus can be transmitted is through a cough, a sneeze or even through air that comes from the mouth when someone talks. For that reason, residents must wear face coverings when out in public and can be cited for not doing so. The citations come with a $250 fine and a $50 administrative fee.
West Hollywood residents with questions about the COVID-19 pandemic or who are looking for resources to deal with it can find answers on the City of West Hollywood’swebsite. Here is a list of links to sections about particular subjects and issues: