Laguna Beach High School COVID-19 positivity rate dips after holiday spike

A Laguna Beach High School student has her temperature read before entering campus in March 2021. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

By Megan Miller, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach High School saw a decline in COVID-19 cases this week after a post-holiday surge, which resulted in unusually high positivity rates compared to other public high schools in the region.

As of Wednesday, the Laguna Beach Unified School District dashboard reported 67 active cases at the high school, or 5.87% of 1,141 students and staff. It’s an improvement from the last few weeks, which saw the rate hovering just above 10% as recently as Tuesday.

The data comes from Laguna Beach Unified’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which includes reports from students and staff across all schools in the district. The page is updated regularly and tracks the number of positive cases within a 10-day window, as well as active cases in isolation and current quarantines due to close contact.

This dashboard does not include data from private schools, as they are not required to report to the district.

By comparison, most neighboring high schools in the Irvine, Newport-Mesa, and Capistrano Unified School Districts have seen positive cases in roughly 3 to 5% of their respective populations. Only two other schools— Early College High School in Costa Mesa and Irvine High School— are seeing rates closer to 6%.

Laguna Beach High School has a relatively small student population, totaling about 1,000 enrolled, said Shelley Spessard, a school district spokesperson.

By contrast, Irvine High has around 1,800 students, according to the Irvine Unified COVID-19 dashboard; the Newport-Mesa Unified dashboard reports close to 200 enrolled at Early College.

Although public health officials have attributed Orange County COVID-19 spikes to the Omicron variant spreading at large holiday gatherings, Laguna Beach Unified said they can not officially link the surge to any single cause or event.

However, Spessard said there was “a significant number” of students and staff who reported coming into contact with the virus over the holiday break. The district is always evaluating its COVID-19 protocols and closely follows the guidance of the CDC and Orange County Health Care Agency.

“Every time a new piece of guidance comes out, our team meets, collaborates, and makes sure that we are in alignment with the guidance, and that we inform our community as well,” Spessard said.

Masks are only required indoors, with surgical-grade required for staff and highly recommended for students while on campus.

However, outdoor mask mandates apply to those with a “modified quarantine,” Spessard said, adding this status may be granted to those who have come into close contact with the virus and test negative after a five-day quarantine, per CDC guidelines.

For students who test positive, two district nurses are available and work closely with teachers and families to monitor symptoms and testing, and facilitate a safe return to in-person instruction.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) is committed to keeping school campuses open to students, Sara Hopper, president of the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association, said during the Jan. 13 school board meeting.

“I’m happy to say that given all the safeguards presented by CTA, our district continues to fully meet every criteria presently and as they also have done in the past throughout this whole pandemic,” Hopper said. “We also have to mention our nurses who are working above and beyond. And it was such great foresight to have two nurses who are helping to navigate the staff and our families through COVID. The rules change all the time and we really rely on them for their input.”

Teachers and classified staff were supportive of returning to in-person learning and have handled COVID-19 case spikes well, Spessard said.

“They’ve been absolutely incredible,” Spessard said. “Definitely wanting to get back in front of students and having students in the school and in the classroom, and getting back to as much of a sense of normalcy as possible.”

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