Employees at a California school must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo a weekly test to prove they are not infected with the coronavirus, according to an order announced by Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday.
“We think this is the right thing,” said Newsom, “and we think this is a sustainable way of keeping our schools open and addressing the # 1 fear that parents like me have for young children – and that is to know “that schools are doing everything in their power to protect our children.”
Newsom had previously announced a similar policy for government employees and an absolute mandate with limited religious and medical exemptions for government health workers.
The governor made the announcement Wednesday at an Alameda County elementary school where some details of the proposal were revealed.
A strong nationwide vaccination effort for school workers is expected to be welcome news to many of the groups these workers represent. The California Teachers Assn. has said 90% or more of its members have reported they are already vaccinated against COVID-19 and the union has been campaigning for early access to doses of the vaccine over the winter.
Los Angeles Unified, the largest school system in the state, goes beyond state policy in terms of testing requirements. While the state only requires the unvaccinated to undergo regular testing, LA Unified requires weekly testing of all students and staff, whether they are vaccinated or not.
Officials took this step because of evidence that vaccinated people can catch and transmit the highly contagious Delta variant. The LA Unified Test Plan requires the collection and processing of approximately 100,000 tests per day.
Los Angeles Teachers Union President Cecily Myart-Cruz said through a spokeswoman on Wednesday that she is not opposed to a vaccination mandate for teachers and other workers represented by United Teachers Los Angeles. Her position is in line with recent actions by the union executive, but represents a shift from two weeks ago when Myart-Cruz said she preferred education to vaccination orders for both employees and students.
The LA county also goes beyond state guidelines by requiring that students be masked outdoors while in school. At Tuesday’s school council meeting, officials cited such measures – beyond state and county requirements – as reasons for concerned parents to feel reassured about returning to campus for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 16.
For the entire Los Angeles District, which has 80 school districts, education officials have estimated that approximately 83% of K-12 school district employees are vaccinated, according to most districts.
Both the University of California and Cal State Systems have announced strict vaccination regulations for all students and staff who are turned away from classroom teaching and indoor campus facilities if not vaccinated. Last week, in line with the K-12 guideline, the Los Angeles Community College District set vaccine rules for employees and students: show proof of vaccination or get regular coronavirus tests.
Newsom’s announcement comes as several major California school districts announced similar policies in the past few days, including San Francisco Unified and Long Beach Unified. San Francisco will require proof of vaccination for all faculties beginning September 7th. Every unvaccinated employee must be tested for coronavirus infection at least once a week. The school district has about 10,000 employees and has received proof of vaccination for about half.
“Given that we are in the midst of rising cases and new variants in our community,” said Supt. Vincent Matthews said in a statement, “Vaccination is a necessary step to protect our students, employees and families.”
As the number of cases associated with the Delta variant has increased, the number of infected children in California and the United States has increased significantly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Serious illness in children appears to be rare.
Vaccine mandates for school staff were given on Tuesday by Dr. Anthony Fauci, senior US infectious disease expert, affirmed. Fauci said state and local governments should require teachers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Yeah, I’ll upset some people about it, but I think we should,” he said in an interview with MSNBC. “This is very serious business. You would like people to see why it is so important to get vaccinated. “
But Fauci added that there would be no federal mandates for teacher vaccinations. Local mandates “for schools, for teachers, for universities, for colleges” would be appropriate, he said.
Times staffer Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.