Los Angeles County has granted waivers to South Pasadena’s three public elementary schools to tentatively allow small numbers of students to receive on-site instruction, though it remains to be seen when the South Pasadena Unified School District will take that step.
The waivers affect students in transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade.
Meanwhile, the county has again clamped down on businesses and the public sphere, in response to a growing wave of COVID-19 cases that is again filling precious hospital beds. The state is presently rated at “uncontrolled spread” of the coronavirus and most of the counties either remain in or have been recently relegated to the worst tier of the state’s pandemic rating classifications.
“As COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations accelerate, we are at a time where immediate action is needed to change our current trajectory,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, in a briefing this week. “Working with the Board of Supervisors, we will modify requirements to enhance safeguards and slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Health and emergency officials stress the need for residents to practice their holiday observances in as safe and responsible a manner as possible. Though “pandemic fatigue” has certainly set in, according to Eric Zanteson of the South Pasadena Fire Department, it remains vital to push on with isolation until vaccines are publicly available.
“They’re tired of staying home,” Zanteson, an operations division chief with SPFD, added. “They want to be with their families. Everybody’s been isolated, and that’s tough on mental health.”
For now, the SPUSD awaits school site visits by county Department of Public Health officials, who will evaluate the efficacy of the district’s protocols to ensure physical distancing and hygienic practices to curb any spread of the coronavirus. The district is saying that the earliest it will have any in-person instruction is after the winter break, which runs from Dec. 21-Jan. 1; distance learning will continue at least through Friday, Dec. 18.
In a letter to district students, parents and staff, Superintendent Geoff Yantz said he expected the county teams to conduct their evaluations throughout the next two to three weeks and that he anticipated the district would begin steps to implement its return-to-school planning after Thanksgiving break. The district COVID-19 Compliance Task Force will remain involved in the evaluations and planning.
Yantz said the SPUSD applied for the waivers near the end of October, a process that requires endorsement from the relevant unions and groups such as PTAs. The county is now approving up to 50 waivers each week after starting at 30, apportioned among the five supervisorial districts and focusing on schools with high numbers of at-risk students.
“We received the approvals much faster than we anticipated,” Yantz said in his letter.
Though the district will prepare for a hybrid model in any case, it also will remain prepared to soldier on with the distance learning it has utilized since schools closed in the spring, in the event that cases continue to skyrocket in the county.
As of the Review’s press deadline this week, South Pasadena has had 361 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 26 fatalities attributed to the disease. Countywide, the overall number of cases reached 348,336 this week, with 7,335 deaths.
Locally, although the South Pasadena Care Center was the site of a large outbreak in the spring, current conditions at the facility are stable, according to the SPFD.
“We’ve seen no increase in resident-positive or staff-positive [tests],” Zanteson explained. “There have been no recent deaths there as a result of the control measures they’ve implemented. They’ve been able to keep isolation and PPE requirements in place.”
Starting today, restaurants with outdoor dining are required to reduce their outdoor capacity by half. Additionally, those eateries will have to close between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily.
“That’s just for restaurants where people can gather that aren’t essential,” Zanteson explained. “That’s an important point to note. We’re not in a ‘curfew.’ We’re just closing those gathering locations, where people may imbibe alcohol and reduce their caution level.”
Zanteson added that the county could consider renewing portions of the former Safer at Home orders imposing stricter closures or curfews if cases continue to rise. In an improvement from the beginning of the pandemic, when supplies were often hard to come by and testing minimal, organizations and people are better prepared for sheltering in place, he added.
“The plus side is, when the outbreak initially began and we saw what was coming in February, we implemented control measures for our personnel to reduce potential exposure to our responders to make sure didn’t lose them to quarantine or illness,” Zanteson said. “The same requirements are in place today that were when the outbreak started, and as a result, we’ve been able to ensure that our personnel have not had an exposure on any of our responses.”
For up-to-date information on the county’s coronavirus statistics, visit publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/coronavirus/data/index.htm. To review SPUSD’s Reopening and Safety Plan, visit spusd.net.