The big spike in COVID-19 cases caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus has led some Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to delay a return to in-person classes. 

As of Jan. 14, at least 72% of district Catholic schools had returned to in-person instruction after winter break, according to the Department of Catholic Schools (DCS). The rest had either delayed reopening classrooms or switched to a hybrid schedule due to quarantine protocols for sick or exposed students.

DCS has been working with health officials in the three counties that make up the territory of the archdiocese — Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara — to provide PCR and “rapid” COVID-19 testing to Catholic schools. The district was also set to distribute more than 200,000 N-95 masks to students and staff secured from the LA County Office of Education at no cost. 

“We recognize the challenges that many of our elementary schools face,” in returning to in-person class amid the surge, DCS Superintendent Paul Escala told Angelus. “It’s great to see our faculty and school staff on the front lines coming together to support our students in returning to learning after break.”

Escala said that the N-95s, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says provide the best protection against COVID-19, were first being shipped to five Catholic high schools in each of the archdiocese’s five pastoral regions. From there, they will be distributed to schools in their respective regions the week of Jan. 18.

The spread of the Omicron variant has led to all-time highs in daily case number records in Southern California, but fewer hospitalizations and deaths. Evidence suggests the new variant spreads quicker than previous versions of the virus, but tends to cause less severe illness

A statewide mandate requiring face covering indoors, including in churches, will be in effect in California at least until Feb. 15.