OC Board Approves COVID-19 Testing for Schools

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County supervisors expanded COVID-19 testing at the county's Anaheim Convention Center today to include teachers, students and school staff to help campuses reopen sooner for in-school lessons.

All of the county's schools are restricted to remote instruction through online programs because the county is on the state's watch list of counties not meeting standards for curbing the spread of COVID-19.

But the state is allowing schools in those counties to apply for waivers so long as teachers, daycare providers and other stakeholders provide a plan to reopen the schools safely.

So far, 20 schools have submitted applications for a waiver, according to Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also the county's interim chief health officer. Those applications are on pause as the state works to fix a glitch in the electronic reporting system for laboratories that has led to an undercount of positivity rates, Chau said.

State officials expect to fix the problem and catch up on logging coronavirus cases by the end of the week, Chau said.

Part of the application requires a testing protocol that allows for contact tracing, so Supervisors Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee, who chair the county's testing committee, proposed allowing educators and students to receive tests at the newly opened county testing site at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“As you know, schools have been out and closed for in-person instruction for almost five months now, and as the new school year approaches schools and school districts will have to comply with the California Dept. of Public Health'' guidelines, Do said. “Part of the requirement in the waiver application is the testing capability of students and staff, and we want to facilitate schools reopening and to encourage in-person learning, so the county assistance in providing that testing capacity for schools is really important.''

Do added, “What we're doing here is exactly what a lot of people want in the community -- to try to get children back in school as soon as possible. I know there are many students who are falling behind because the remote learning is not suitable for them. Missing at least half a school year already with the possibility of missing another half a school year can cause permanent damage to the academic progress of these students.''

Chaffee said the testing “provides a critical component for the schools to reopen should they choose to do so.''

The 24-hour turnaround in providing results to tests at the Anaheim site “is really excellent because that allows the contact tracing to go forward,'' Chaffee said.

County officials are considering opening a second site at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, Do said.

Chau, however, noted that although the Anaheim site has the capacity to handle 1,000 tests a day, only about 40% of that capacity is being accessed at this time. Chau said the registration online is only in English now, so officials are working to translate the registrations to other languages to help boost requests.

Supervisor Don Wagner said opening up testing for schools is an important step toward allowing in-person classes.

“Regardless of what you think about the testing regime and where we are the fact is we're in  regulatory environment where our schools will not be able to open without a sophisticated testing regime in place,'' Wagner said. “We have to be able to do this if we are going to take the next step of

reopening schools.''

Addressing multiple public comments at the board meeting that questioned the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wagner said, “Take this up with the governor because we live in an environment where if the board today were to decide to reopen everything, everyone back to work, two things would happen. First, fully half of the public would say, `I don't feel safe, I'm not coming back.'... And (Alcohol Beverage Control) would be puling your license... You would find CalOSHA on your doorstep. You would find you work place being investigated by the state. You don't have to like it. I don't. But the board of supervisors lives in the real world.''

Photo: Getty Images

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