LA County introduces modified quarantine option for students amid low campus cases

With COVID-19 infections remaining relatively low among K-12 students, Los Angeles County Thursday announced the availability of a "modified quarantine" system that allows unvaccinated students who are exposed to the virus to continue attending in-person classes under select circumstances.

The optional system is available to unvaccinated students whose exposure to an infected person occurred when both were fully masked. The unvaccinated student also must not be displaying any symptoms of infection.

According to county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, the unvaccinated student who meets those basic conditions can continue to attend in- person classes, but must remain asymptomatic and must wear a mask at all times. The student also must quarantine at home at all times other than while at school.

The student will have to be tested twice a week during the quarantine period, including once within one or two days of the exposure and again at least three days after the exposure. The modified quarantine period can end after seven days if the student tests negative at least five days after being exposed.

Ferrer said school districts are not required to offer the modified quarantine, noting that schools would have to have the necessary resources to enforce all of its requirements. She conceded that it could also be difficult in some cases to verify that the exposure occurred when both the unvaccinated student and the infected person were both wearing masks at all times.

"It gets complicated when students are doing other activities together," she said, pointing to students who are eating together or taking part in outdoor activities during recess.

The modified quarantine procedure is only available for students, not teachers. The procedure also cannot be used in cases of a confirmed COVID outbreak at a campus.

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Ferrer said COVID infections have been steadily declining among all pediatric age groups, and cases among students school campuses in the county have been occurring at a pace of about 0.5%. That's only slightly higher than the general county infection rate of 0.4%.

According to county statistics, between Aug. 15 and Sept. 13, 7,995 COVID infections have occurred among the roughly 1.5 million students in the county. The vast majority of them, 5,456, occurred among students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in the county and second-largest in the nation.

As of late afternoon Thursday, the county had not yet released its daily COVID-19 case numbers.

On Wednesday, Ferrer reported another 37 COVID-19 deaths, raising the overall death toll to 25,748. Another 1,930 cases were also confirmed, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 1,437,073.

The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county was 1.6% as of Wednesday, down from 3.3% a week ago.

According to state figures, there were 1,156 COVID-positive patients in L.A. County hospitals as of Thursday, down from 1,185 on Wednesday. There were 341 patients in intensive care, down from 351 a day earlier.

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Los Angeles County on Wednesday had fallen out of the federal government's most severe "high" transmission category, advancing to the "substantial" category. On Thursday, however, new case numbers pushed the county back into the "high" transmission level. Ferrer said the move was likely due to a two-day delay in case reporting caused by computer upgrades that were conducted over the weekend, meaning no new cases were logged on Saturday and Sunday. With those cases now being reported, it likely impacted the county's overall COVID transmission rate.

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