August 16, 2020 - Superintendent Austin Beutner announced today the launch of a program that will provide regular COVID-19 testing and contact tracing to school staff, students and their families. As part of this plan, research will commence to study the impact and effects of reopening and this data will be available to the general public.
The testing and contact tracing program and its corresponding research are a groundbreaking collaboration between Los Angeles Unified School District and leading scientists from the University California Los Angeles (UCLA), Stanford University and the Johns Hopkins University, Microsoft, testing experts, and healthcare companies Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net. Together, they will be part of a task force co-chaired by Beutner and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary actions, and while this testing and contact tracing effort is unprecedented, it is necessary and appropriate,” Beutner said. “This will provide a public health benefit to the school community, as well as the greater Los Angeles area. This program will also provide significant education benefits for students by getting them back to school sooner and safer and keeping them there. We hope this effort also will provide learnings which can benefit other school systems and communities across the nation as we all combat this pandemic.”
Strategic interpretation of the evidence on testing and epidemiological modeling will be provided by the Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University and UCLA. They are providing their services pro bono.
Los Angeles Unified begins the program Monday in a measured fashion with a focus on carefully fine-tuning systems and operational logistics as the new school year starts. Tests first will be provided to staff already working at schools and their children, utilizing childcare Los Angeles Unified is offering to staff at schools.
Testing then will be provided to all staff and students over time. The goal in this early phase is to establish a baseline. After that, there will be periodic testing of staff and students. The frequency and schedule for that testing will be set after the initial testing phase based on epidemiological modeling.
The spread of COVID-19 in the Los Angeles area still far exceeds guidelines from the State of California governing the possible return of students to school campuses. Any decision about the return of students to schools is some time away. The launch of this program now allows a system to be built and tested, as well as provides a base of knowledge to help prepare for an eventual return to school campuses.
“Determining an ideal testing strategy involves the application of epidemiologic principles and modeling informed by all available information,” said Dr. Kristan Staudenmayer, Associate Professor and the researcher leading Stanford’s contribution to the efforts. “Based on our work applying policy-relevant epidemiologic modeling to COVID-19 operational challenges at Stanford Hospital and Stanford University, we believe Stanford can contribute to the important work being conducted by Los Angeles Unified.”
Testing also will be provided to household members of students and staff who test positive for the virus and household members who show symptoms. These measures will help get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community. And it will help keep them there if an isolated outbreak were to occur.
“In addition to the work done by Stanford and the Johns Hopkins University, UCLA will bring breadth and depth of scientific expertise to study the impact and effects of Los Angeles Unified’s re-opening plan and to share the information learned from these research efforts throughout the world,” said Dr. Steven M. Dubinett, Director of the UCLA Clinical & Translational Science Institute.
“Since schools were closed, science has been our guide and science creates the foundation for this effort,” Beutner added. “This collaboration is the result of months of around-the-clock work by many, and I’m grateful for their efforts to get us to this point.”
In addition to the three universities, the effort includes the following companies:
● Microsoft is providing an application – powered by Microsoft Azure and the Power Platform – that will enable school administrators and health officials to track insights into trends and potential risks to help manage COVID-19 exposures and cases. The application includes a robust process for Los Angeles Unified employees and students to self-screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. The application also includes expediting COVID-19 test registration, dashboards and phone apps and portals that help capture daily symptoms, test results, and consolidates data to identify high-risk areas for awareness and safety improvement, case management and facility-readiness management.
● Clinical Reference Laboratory (CRL), one of the largest privately held testing laboratories in the U.S., will provide Los Angeles Unified with testing specimen collection kits and process the tests in CRL’s lab in Lenexa, Kan. CRL received FDA Emergency Use Authorization for CRL Rapid Response™, a saliva-based COVID-19 RT-PCR test that can be self-collected at home, work, school or any other setting. In partnership with Vive Concierge Inc., a minority-owned and woman-led advanced telemedicine, social impact and health-equity platform, it will deliver test results virtually and provide optional additional physician support to students, families and staff.
● SummerBio is an automated diagnostic testing company and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) laboratory based in Silicon Valley and will be providing RT-PCR test processing to support the Los Angeles Unified testing program. SummerBio has automated the existing gold-standard RT-PCR test to increase volumes and lower costs with fast turnaround times.
● Anthem Blue Cross has been supporting the effort through thought leadership, leveraging its health-related data and research and will continue to participate as a member of the task force.
● Health Net will support a portion of testing-related costs and work with Los Angeles Unified to make sure every eligible family is enrolled in Medi-Cal or Covered California. Health Net will also provide technical assistance to Los Angeles Unified to route claims for students and staff with existing health coverage and explore sharing de-identified information about the health impact of the virus.
Former Secretary of Education Duncan brings extensive experience in overseeing the creation and implementation of effective education policy at the local, state and national levels. Secretary Duncan will help ensure the effort coordinates with relevant government agencies and that public policy implications are shared with the appropriate policy makers.
“Scientific studies emphasize the need for a robust and consistent testing regimen to keep students, teachers, staff and the broader community safe as we return to classrooms,” Duncan said. “We all know that children learn better in a class with a teacher and we cannot deprive them of the education they need to lead us into tomorrow. We’ve never done anything like this before, but the future of public education depends on our success.”