Schools safer than youth sports programs, official says

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Schools reopening across Los Angeles County are showing excellent compliance with COVID-19 protocols, with the county’s public health director proclaiming that campuses are safe for kids — but that youth sports are more of a challenge, and stricter rules for participants could be implemented.

Barbara Ferrer said April 19 that of the five current COVID-19 outbreaks involving schools — three in Santa Clarita and one each in Redondo Beach and Agoura Hills — “all are associated with participation in youth sports, not with attending instruction at school.”

“We know that masking and distancing can be a challenge in some sports, and that socializing during these activities off school campus could also be a factor in virus transmission among these groups,” she said. “We’re looking hard at the current guidance for youth sports and may be making additional recommendations later this week to mitigate the increases we’re seeing in transmission among youth sport participants.”

The current outbreaks involve students participating in soccer, basketball, baseball and dance.

Attending school itself, however, is proving to be a safe move, she said. She said of the school campuses visited by health inspectors, more than half had perfect rates of compliance with COVID-19 protocols, while 35% had 90% or higher compliance, and 10% had 80-89% compliance.

Students are pretty safe at schools as long as the safety protocols are followed,” she said.

Ferrer overall maintained her “cautious optimism” about the county’s battle against COVID-19, noting a 98% drop in average daily cases since the winter surge, along with a 94% drop in daily hospitalizations and 97% decline in deaths.

With these continued stable case rates and daily test positivity averaging about 1%, we can all feel hopeful that our progress on slowing transmission is not an illusion,” she said. “However, if we hope to sustain this remarkable progress, we need to be realistic about the risks that come with our return to places and activities that were such a big part of our lives before the pandemic. We need to be careful to take sensible precautions in the weeks ahead while we vaccinate more people.”

Ferrer pointed to spiking case numbers in other parts of the country, primarily on the East Coast but scattered in other areas. She noted that Michigan is now seeing 7,000 new cases per day, and Pennsylvania’s daily case rate has nearly doubled over the past month.

The increases are likely due in large part to highly infectious COVID-19 variants, but Ferrer also noted that all states seeing increases have “significantly relaxed” their restrictions on businesses and other gatherings.

“While in the past, high rates of transmission on the East Coast have translated a few weeks later to increases in cases in L.A. County, I don’t believe this pattern is inevitable,” Ferrer said. “Our circumstances are different now than in the past, because we have millions of residents and workers vaccinated.”

She added: “We in Los Angeles are in a good place right now, and we have an opportunity to chart a different course from the one we’re seeing play out across other parts of the country. But we only get to do this if we do it together. … There’s never been more proof of how important it is for us to take care of each other, especially now that so many of us are getting back to work and school. We can do this but we get to do this only if we’re working together.”

On April 19, the county reported another 18 deaths, bringing the overall cumulative total to 23,641.

Another 337 cases were also reported by the county, lifting the total from throughout the pandemic to 1,229,328.

According to state figures, there were 465 people hospitalized in Los Angeles County. The number of people in intensive care dropped below 100, reaching 96.

More than 6 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in the county, including 2,239,672 second doses — meaning that number of people are fully vaccinated. At least 230,000 people to date had received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at “county-controlled” vaccination sites before the use of that vaccine was halted while federal officials investigate a half-dozen reports of people developing serious blood clots.