‘Tripledemic’ seeks mask mandate for LAUSD parents

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At the first sign of a smell or stormy weather ahead, Lourdes Lopez keeps her 10-year-old daughter, Alison, home after school.

Alison has Down syndrome and is prone to illness. Getting a cold can be a big challenge, Lopez said, not just for her daughter, but for the entire family, who live in a South Los Angeles apartment building.

This winter, Lopez will once again feel a terrible sense of deja vu. She doesn’t think her daughter is safe at school, especially since masks are required and Los Angeles schools don’t have universal COVID-19 testing. Alison missed days when school officials met with Lopez to discuss the truancy.

“I know if he misses class, he’s going to fall behind,” she said. But Lopez cannot justify endangering her daughter’s health. “That day, I told them I had to help them.”

Lopez’s concerns echo those of many Los Angeles parents who are facing yet another difficult winter of health concerns. Not only are they deeply concerned about ongoing COVID outbreaks in schools, but endemic cases of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, have added to their fears. As many low-income or multi-family households return from winter break, concerns mount as a contagious virus threatens not only their child’s health, but also their financial stability and well-being. – to be.

Lopez and a group of Latino parents recently met on Zoom to share their concerns and discuss a plan of action. Parents have prepared demands to send to the school principal and school board members, including a request to make face masks mandatory at least in January. The group also called on the district to reinstate weekly coronavirus testing on campus.

“As parents advocating for equitable quality public education and safe school campuses, we are concerned that we will be returning to school without the specific preventive health protocols LA Unified has in place to protect our children from respiratory viral infections,” the group wrote. , consists primarily of Spanish-speaking parents in East and South Los Angeles.

A week into the new semester, the Our Voice: Community for Quality Education group has yet to hear back directly from the district. But at a press conference on January 9, Supt. Alberto Carvalho fought against what he called “disinformation, misinformation, confusion and unfounded fear”.

He said flu and RSV are currently a bigger threat to children than COVID, adding: “Prevention is the best medicine. That’s why it’s hidden. We recommend that students and staff wear masks. He also blamed misinformation for lowering vaccination rates against COVID and other diseases: “Now is the time to vaccinate yourself and your children. This is the best prevention.

Carvalho’s approach was welcomed by another contingent of parents who oppose mandatory masks in schools.

But members of the Our Voice group say his insistence on voluntary measures limits their concerns.

The district’s current approach to COVID is outlined in the district health department council. Schools will no longer report individual COVID-19 cases, but are still expected to report clusters of three or more potentially related cases, said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. Reliability may be compromised by inconsistent testing and reporting, and by the fact that many children have no or mild symptoms.

Despite this, there was a gradual increase in reported clusters in the fall and a sharp increase in December, consistent with past waves following Thanksgiving family gatherings. For example, in the first week of October, there were 27 groups in schools and youth programs across the county. That figure was 64 the week before Thanksgiving and 226 the last full week before winter break.

While the actual number of cases and clusters is underreported, the increase is telling, Ferrer said.

LA Unified is still collecting data on COVID infections and has a policy asking parents and staff to upload positive test results to the tracking system, but compliance is not mandatory. County officials have the same oversight problem — testing isn’t widespread and COVID cases aren’t necessarily being reported.

Carvalho’s reliance on an additional mask puts Los Angeles Unified University in line with many school systems. During the pandemic, the district used stricter testing rules than most school systems, imposed a vaccination mandate on staff and tried unsuccessfully to require students to be vaccinated, prompting sharp criticism.

“Mask mandates and testing are a complete waste of our tax dollars,” said Westside mom Jenny Zepp. “Lots of learning, mental/physical/emotional health lost.”

“Covid should now be treated like any other virus,” district parent Carrie Kangro said. “I don’t think we should test it anymore. Stay home if you are sick. Otherwise, continue. And get vaccinated.

His vision was not far from that of LA Unified Medical Director Dr. Smita Malhotra.

“Thanks to science, thanks to vaccinations, thanks to therapies,” Malhotra said at a press conference, “we’re now in a similar place with COVID-19 … RSV and the flu.” So, as we enter a new season of acute respiratory illness, we will treat it the same way we treat all respiratory viruses.”

Malhotra, who defended the district’s previous approach as right for the times, strongly supported the mask, albeit without a warrant.

A local charter school group is going against the grain. KIPP SoCal returned to mandatory masks at its 24 local campuses in early December. KIPP schools are located in low-income minority communities that have been hit hardest by COVID.

Brooklyn Frederickson, 10, in her 5th grade social studies class at KIPP Opportunity Academy, a South Los Angeles charter college, required students and staff to wear masks in December during the height of the spread of COVID-19.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

LAUSD parents who live in disadvantaged communities say the district needs to act like KIPP.

“The pandemic is not over,” Lopez said. “More viruses will come very strong.”

Lopez said she thinks wearing masks is a simple way to protect the most vulnerable.

In its community, MLK Community Hospital is dealing with the triple epidemic of influenza, RSV and COVID-19.

The 39-year-old Lopez family lives in a two-bedroom apartment that he shares with his brother-in-law. She lives in one of the bedrooms with her husband and three children. If her husband, who has diabetes, falls ill and cannot go to work, his salary will not be paid, she says.

Lopez’s experience is common in underserved communities, highlighting the huge impact of serious illness.

Since the universal reopening of campuses in the fall of 2021, voluntary veiling has become more common at schools with high numbers of Latino and black students from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to parents and teachers. visit the campus. According to Ferrer, these groups experience poorer health outcomes when the incidence of COVID is high.

Maria Baños, 43, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment in South Los Angeles with her husband and four children.

“I live in a vulnerable community,” Baños said. “I have seen a lot of cases around me and I personally had COVID-19 three times. And my wish is that my children do not experience this. Unfortunately, even with all of our precautions…cases are falling every day. If COVID-19 is in the community, it’s in the schools.

Baños said she worries about her children losing school time due to illness.

She sends her kids to school healthy and they seem to come back with the flu, Baños said. Teachers sometimes send them home sick and tell them not to worry; they help you get back on track. But she says she doesn’t think her children are getting much help, even though school officials insist on good attendance.

“To me, this is another pandemic because we have it [the] Omicron [variant], influenza and RSV. I am afraid that my children will get sick and stay at home. Even if the school says they will help, it is true that if they fall behind, they will fall behind.

Absenteeism remains a problem. Since November, LA Unified’s participation rate has been around 89%, down from pre-pandemic levels of 95% or higher. Chronic absenteeism remains high, with approximately two out of five students missing 10% or more of class.

“I don’t like hiding ugly truths,” Carvalho said at a press conference. “We’ve improved chronic absenteeism… It’s still not enough.”

Baños said she is especially worried about getting sick because, as an immigrant, she doesn’t know what will happen if she can’t take care of her children.

“If I tell the hospital I’m sick, where will they take me?” Who will look after my children? This is my fear,” he said.

Recently elected Los Angeles school board member Rocio Rivas, who represents East Los Angeles and Central Los Angeles, joined Carvalho in urging parents to use the free at-home coronavirus tests offered by LA Unified.

Rivas, a parent in the district, said he plans to assess whether stricter measures may be necessary the next time students return from vacation.

“We need to be more proactive in taking preventive measures. As a parent, I share the legitimate concerns of other parents.

“We need to be as diplomatic and democratic as possible,” Rivas said. “Whether you want to wear a mask or not, it’s natural for everyone to be concerned. This is our social responsibility; we have to take care of each other.

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