Students in the Burbank Unified School District received a shipment of rapid coronavirus tests from the state on Wednesday, but for parents like Nicole Chancey, it was too late.
She sent her 14-year-old daughter to school on Monday after winter break without access to the free home tests promised to parents in Kindergarten to Grade 12 by Governor Gavin Newsom, who have been delayed by the shortages national and winter storms, according to the governor’s office.
After taking classes for three days, Chancey’s daughter finally took a state-provided coronavirus test on Thursday morning. It was positive.
“I would never send him to school sick with COVID or anything. I absolutely think it is the state, county and school district’s fault for not providing tests to students before they resume school after the holidays, ”Chancey said. “Without mandatory testing in our district schools, we have no idea how many students have COVID-19 and are actively spreading it. “
With the Omicron variant causing an increase in transmission and making test supplies scarce, schools and parents welcomed Newsom’s December 22 announcement that the state would provide 6 million tests – enough for every school student. Kindergarten to Grade 12 public education in California – so families can screen children before sending them back to school after the holidays.
But what followed was frustration and confusion as to where the tests were located and whether they would arrive at schools before the students returned. It is still unclear how many tests were finally made available to families this week. As of Friday, 17 counties had still not received any tests, according to data from the governor’s office.
For districts that were able to send students home with pre-break testing, screenings identified hundreds of cases that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, raising questions about the impact of delayed shipments on school case rates.
The governor’s office said winter storms and supply chain shortages were the reasons for the delays, and spokeswoman Erin Mellon called getting millions of tests in counties so far “d ‘a huge accomplishment’ in the face of ‘literal rain, sleet and snow’.
“The governor is committed to supporting schools for in-person learning. Testing is an important part of that effort, but it’s not the only tool – masks and vaccinations remain essential to minimize the spread of COVID, “Mellon said in an email, adding that the tests were” intended to complement existing efforts by counties and school districts. . “
Of the 6 million tests promised by Newsom, half arrived on Monday, when many school districts returned from vacation. On Friday, the governor’s office said the state had delivered more tests than initially promised, with more than 7 million shipped and another 2.5 million for delivery. But that doesn’t mean that each of California’s 6 million and more K-12 students took a test on Friday.
The governor’s office count takes into account individual tests, counting the two tests provided in each box. While districts haven’t separated the two tests in each kit, a tedious process those who spoke to The Times said they plan to avoid, the state’s supply is still short by a million. of tests.
The process dragged on as the tests were shipped to county education offices, who then had to distribute them to school districts, responsible for sending them to families.
Data provided by the governor’s office shows that 40 counties received part or part of their shipment. The state has sent 788,000 tests to Los Angeles County, and more are underway, and another 940,000 tests directly to Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest district.
San Bernardino County had not received any tests on Friday. The governor’s office said nearly 400,000 tests were on their way to San Bernardino.
“We are ready and ready, and we have been,” said Jenny Owen, spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Office of Education. “The test kits are going to provide an extra layer of protection and are of benefit. We are still looking forward to a shipment.
While not all districts in San Bernardino County have returned from winter vacation, some have, including Chino Valley Unified, which is home to more than 27,000 students. About 60% of California’s 6 million students returned to school this week, according to data provided by Newsom’s office.
Sacramento City Unified, which resumed Monday, said state-supplied home test kits have so far avoided more than 500 potential “exposures”, calculated out of 20,000 the results of the preliminary tests were communicated at the beginning of the week. The school district received 38,000 test kits from the state before students left for winter vacation, not enough for the more than 40,000 students enrolled in the district.
“Unfortunately, the district did not receive enough kits for all the students as we expected, so the distribution focused on prioritizing younger populations ineligible to receive the vaccine,” said Wednesday. spokesperson Al Goldberg. “The 500 students and staff who tested positive are now in quarantine to prevent further spread in our schools, which is a huge success for the SCUSD testing and mitigation strategy. “
For counties that received only partial shipments, the California County Superintendents Educational Services Assn. said school officials need to decide which students get them first.
“This puts county superintendents in a very difficult position as to how to distribute these tests in their districts,” said spokesperson Kindra Britt.
San Diego Unified, which also received tests before students left for winter vacation, reported that at least 1,921 students tested positive and were staying at home on Thursday. The district is home to more than 100,000 students and test results are still being collected, a spokesperson said.
The impact of shipping delays is difficult to quantify, said Dr Jorge Luis Salinas, hospital epidemiologist at Stanford Health Care.
“Even if they distributed these tests on time before school started, it would have prevented some transmission, but transmission will still occur,” Salinas said. “Many children will be infected in the days and weeks to come and probably more at home than at school.”
Still, the state’s delivery problems left schools responding to calls from anxious parents and teachers who wanted to know how they could get their hands on the free tests Newsom had pledged to offer. Some districts, including La Cañada Unified, have delayed start times.
Although Newsom has not made testing mandatory, La Cañada Unified has joined Los Angeles Unified in demanding that testing return after the holidays. The move comes after La Cañada Unified conducted its own school-based tests on Monday, which showed a 10% district-wide positivity rate. The effort depleted the district’s testing supplies, and 5,000 tests were missing as of Tuesday. A spokesperson said on Thursday that the district had received the tests.
“As soon as we have them, we will have a distribution plan to distribute them to families immediately, but I recognize that it is very difficult to get a test if you are on your own,” said the superintendent. Wendy Sinnette said during an emergency school board meeting on Tuesday. “I think it’s important to be transparent: the whole community will depend heavily on us to have these 5,000 test kits delivered tomorrow. “
Oakland Unified said testing during the winter break identified more than 900 infected students and staff before classes resumed on Monday. Many of these positive results came from home tests distributed by the district. The district sent 41,000 rapid tests home with students and staff before or during winter vacation, with half of the results uploaded voluntarily to the district tracking system. Home tests identified 396 students and 64 staff members with positive results on Sunday, the day before classes resumed.
“While we know the Omicron variant is spreading across the country, we are delighted to see this testing regime working as we had hoped, keeping people home sick,” said the superintendent. Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement.
Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, said the scenario was different on the other side of the Bay Bridge. The San Francisco Unified School District, which did not receive a delivery from the state before school resumed Monday, is operating in the dark, Curiel said.
“So we have an unknown amount of individuals with COVID who may be in schools,” Curiel said. “And then you have those who are prevented from going to school due to family anxiety or those who have symptoms without access to testing to come back – there are so many variables in there.”
Curiel, whose union is in negotiations with the district of 61,000 students over increased safety precautions and guaranteed sick days for COVID-19, said there was enough time for school management prepare test protocols before winter break. Curiel said the union wanted the district to follow Los Angeles Unified by demanding a negative test to return to school.
“There was no plan,” Curiel said. “The governor’s frustration at not showing up for us – well, he announced this plan on December 22. Our students were already home and we know about the supply issues.”
Alison Collins, a member of the San Francisco Unified board of directors, said that two days after class resumed, she received notice of about 25 cases of coronavirus at her child’s school.
“My heart goes out to all the students and families who are now concerned or worried about whether their children have been exposed in the past two days,” Collins said at a press conference Wednesday with United Educators of San Francisco. “This is unacceptable.”
Last month, Newsom stressed the importance of testing students before they return to campus. He said the 6 million free tests for schools “would ensure they do it safely when they come back in person knowing they haven’t contracted the disease while on vacation.”
California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr Mark Ghaly said on Wednesday that testing is not the only way schools can mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but the state has found it to be. was a good idea to have “a sense, when you can, of what’s going on with the students who just spent two weeks doing different things – maybe traveling, maybe spending time with others people who are not normally part of their circle.
About 40% of the state’s more than 1,000 school districts – including Los Angeles Unified – don’t return to campus until at least Monday, giving state and local education officials more time to distribute the tests.
“We provided these tests in the hope that they would add another layer, another protective blanket and support to our schools,” Ghaly said.