By Gavin J. Quinton and Kennedy Zak
With the new COVID-19 vaccine available, Glendale Unified School District officials and L.A. County health experts have recommended widespread vaccination with the school year well underway.
As of Sept. 27, there have been 61,352 total COVID-19 cases in Glendale, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. Since the start of the 2023-24 school year, GUSD has reported 525 positive cases among students as of Wednesday, a GUSD health services official reported.
At the beginning of summer, local health experts expressed concern over the sharp increase in COVID-19 testing positivity rates. In June, the figure was just 4%, but that number spiked to almost 16% by late August before taking a dip to around 9% at the end of September.
COVID-19 hospitalization rates are also on the rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, Los Angeles County cases are lower than the national curve, according to local wastewater and testing data.
There were roughly 200 current hospitalizations in June, compared to 612 as of the second week of September. Still, Los Angeles County remains in the CDC Low Hospital Admission Level with 6.1 weekly COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people as of Sept. 23.
There are now 14 prominent COVID-19 variants, but global health experts say that the jury is still out as to whether these new variants — EG.5, BA.2.86 and XBB.1.5 which stemmed from Omicron — will be of significant concern.
The new vaccine, manufactured by ModernaTX Inc. and Pfizer Inc., more effectively targets these new variants, health officials said, and it became available in Glendale pharmacies in mid-September.
“The 2023-2024 updated COVID-19 vaccines more closely target the XBB lineage of the Omicron variant and could restore protection against severe COVID-19 that may have decreased over time,” the CDC stated on its website. “We anticipate the updated vaccines will be better at fighting currently circulating variants.”
The new vaccine is recommended in Glendale schools, but no requirement has been levied by county health officials. GUSD COVID-19 policy is guided by the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 prevention and response guidelines for education settings, which has not issued masking or vaccine mandates.
According to a statement from the CDC, “Staying up to date on vaccines is especially important heading into fall and winter, as indicators of COVID-19 transmission, including more outbreaks in schools, work sites and skilled nursing facilities, have increased in Los Angeles County over the past few weeks.”
“While the COVID vaccine is not mandated … it’s still strongly recommended, and we encourage our community, our students, our families and staff to vaccinate,” Virginia Porter, the health services coordinator for GUSD told the News-Press. This includes getting the new COVID-19 vaccine for those who are eligible, Porter added.
When it comes to positive cases, Porter said the district follows the guidelines set forth by the county and requires students and staff to quarantine for at least five days upon testing positive.
“On day six, as long as they’re feeling better and are fever free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication, they may return,” Porter said.
Students are strongly recommended to wear masks upon returning to school through day 10. In line with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Porter said staff are required to wear masks through day 10 unless they test negative for two consecutive days after day five.
The district is still following contact tracing guidelines in an effort to prevent outbreaks in schools, Porter said.
The current guidelines instruct the district to notify those who shared indoor space with someone who tested positive for a minimum of 15 minutes cumulative over a 24-hour period. From then, those who were exposed would be given recommendations for symptom monitoring and testing, and would be advised to wear a mask, although that is not a requirement. If someone who has been exposed is showing symptoms, they must stay home and test.
To combat the upcoming cold and flu season, GUSD recently held a flu vaccine clinic for students and staff to conveniently receive the flu vaccine, Porter said.
Porter also emphasized the importance of parents and guardians teaching children healthy hand washing habits as this is the “first line of defense regarding any illness.” Additionally, educating children on monitoring for symptoms, keeping students home if they’re feeling sick and communicating with the district to ensure proper contact tracing are all ways to keep the community safe and healthy, she said.
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have recommended updated COVID vaccines to individuals 6 months and older.
“The updated vaccines are expected to provide good protection against COVID-19 from the currently circulating variants,” a press release from the FDA stated. “Barring the emergence of a markedly more virulent variant, the FDA anticipates that the composition of COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated annually, as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine.”
First published in the October 7 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.