Weekly roundup: Orange County schools endure Omicron storm, and more Ian Hanigan January 7, 2022 From surging case rates to the distribution of at-home testing kits, COVID-19 and its Omicron variant continued to dominate education news coverage. Here’s a look at stories from the week ending Friday, Jan. 7: As students returned from winter break, campuses across Orange County were grappling with a surge of new COVID-19 cases among students and staff, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. One district reported that its elementary absences were nearly six times higher than normal. OC schools continued to take a number of steps to reduce on-campus transmission, from enforcing state mask mandates and quarantine protocols to tracking, reporting and communicating new cases. High school athletics programs were also feeling the impacts of soaring case counts. The OC Register reported that dozens of games were canceled. Meanwhile, state and county health officials issued new guidance on quarantines, isolation and so-called “Mega Events.” Three large trucks carrying COVID-19 rapid antigen tests from the state arrived at OCDE’s offices on Wednesday morning, but additional shipments will be needed to cover all Orange County students. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond acknowledged that testing kit shipping delays, primarily caused by weather, have been challenging and “disappointing.” California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said pediatric hospitalizations have spiked in recent days, surpassing the peak of last winter’s surge. The OC Health Care Agency this week confirmed Orange County’s third COVID-related pediatric death. In December, a child under the age of 5 died of complications related to a COVID-19 infection. A shared desire to help promote the mental health and wellness of local youth recently inspired two award-winning projects by Orange County students in the Directing Change Hope and Justice Contest. Just before the start of winter break, administrators in the Orange Unified School District cut the ribbon and unwrapped a very large gift for local students — a new state-of-the-art science center at Villa Park High School. OCDE is seeking nominations for the Orange County Music and Arts Administrators awards. The program celebrates local leaders who’ve promoted the growth of arts education across the county. Calls to teach ethnic studies and concerns over critical race theory made for a tumultuous year for Orange County school boards, the Voice of OC reported. And in case you missed it, Dr. Al Mijares, who leads OCDE as Orange County’s superintendent of schools, made the OC Register’s roundup of the 125 top local influencers of 2021. This is the part where we encourage you to keep up with local education news stories by bookmarking the OCDE Newsroom, subscribing for emailed updates and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.