Examining the Enormous Effort to Keep K-12 Schools Open Safely in LA County

Open K-12 School Safely in LA County

Widely available COVID-19 testing may seem like the status quo, but logistics have been a colossal endeavor for public health agencies worldwide. All COVID-19 testing efforts are essential, but K-12 school testing stands out due to the importance of safely reopening schools. In Los Angeles, the Reopening K-12 Schools Safely – COVID-19 School Testing Project is one example of how public health agencies have tackled comprehensive school testing.

Reopening K-12 Schools Safely – COVID-19 School Testing Program, through Heluna Health and subcontracted partners, has tested 59,537 unique participants (students & school staff)  in 311 schools in the LA area with a running total of 313,743 tests since September 2021. This service keeps students and faculty safe, but it also takes the logistical burden of testing off their plates, allowing schools to focus on educating.

Heluna Health has a longstanding relationship providing services to Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Department of Public Health (LADPH). This relationship led to the request to assist schools in reopening safely for in-person instruction by supporting school-based COVID-19 testing for teachers, staff, and students. This effort is funded as part of the $10 billion dedicated to reopening of schools nationally through the American rescue Plan Act of 2021 awarded through the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) for Prevention and Control of Emerging and Infectious Diseases, and which County of Los Angeles is one of the 64 recipients.   

Photo description: Heluna Health staff distributing over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles. Heluna Health Project Team, Brian Schmidt (Data Manager), Katherine Churchwell (PM), David Valdez (Asst. PM), Brianna Nunez (Admin Asst), Anthony Gomez (Project Coordinator), Peter Dale (Chief Program Officer).

Heluna Health set up a COVID-19 school testing project that included the rapid deployment of Rapid Antigen and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing and the development and execution of a K-12 screening testing implementation plan for schools that do not have existing school-based testing programs. The school testing project required the design and fulfillment of an entire project team led by Heluna Health’s Chief Program Officer and a dedicated, experienced Project Manager. The project team provides targeted outreach to schools to opt-in to logistical support, data management, and reviewing and reporting testing data in coordination with LADPH.  The project also includes key subcontractors and partners for deployed onsite testing teams, laboratory support, supply of personal protective equipment,  a system for reporting all testing, and a training program in partnership with Public Health Institute (PHI).  Along the way, the program has evolved to take on the distribution of professional and over-the-counter rapid antigen test kits and has expanded its support to charter schools.

Though there were many unknowns and challenges to work through, Heluna Health continues to make the Reopening K-12 Schools Safely – COVID-19 School Testing Program a reality for LADPH. As a result, thousands of students and faculty across LA can work in safer conditions pushing the county further into a bright future where students can learn, and teachers can teach without the burden of fear.