California is about to become the first state in the U.S. to require school employees to either show proof that they are vaccinated against the coronavirus or be subject to weekly testing.
Gov. Newsom unveiled the statewide public health order for K-12 teachers and staff on Wednesday as schools resume in-person instruction after the pandemic forced more than a year of distance learning.
The requirement comes as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread in California and elsewhere, fueling a nationwide surge in cases and hospitalizations.
The new policy goes into effect Thursday and schools must be fully compliant with the policy by Oct. 15.
“We think this is the right thing to do. And we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the number one anxiety that parents like myself have,” the Democratic governor said during a late morning news conference. “And that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe.”
Before Newsom’s announcement, California had already issued a similar requirement for state employees and health care workers.
Officials hope these requirements will spur more residents to get the COVID shot, even as the Golden State has one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S.
To date, about 63% of Californians 12 and older are fully vaccinated, while 77.5% of eligible residents have received at least one dose.
“It’s not good enough,” Newsom said. “We have more work to do.”
While the order impacting educators is the first statewide one in the U.S., local districts have already said they would implement a proof of vaccine requirement.
On Tuesday, Long Beach Unified School District became one of only three school districts in the state to announce its own mandatory vaccination requirement for teachers and staff.
Meanwhile, several positive coronavirus tests have been reported in the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District just one week after beginning classes.
School Board member Christine Salazar confirmed on Facebook that positive student COVID tests are being seen “throughout the district.”
The nation’s top disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that while the federal government likely won’t mandate vaccinations for teachers, local government and school districts probably should.
“I mean we are in a critical situation now. We’ve had 615,000-plus deaths and we are in a major surge now as we’re going into the fall, into the school season. This is very serious business,” Fauci said.
On top of more cases being reported on a daily basis, California has seen a recent spike in coronavirus-related hospitalizations. As of Wednesday, about 7,000 COVID-19 patients were being treated in hospitals statewide, according to California’s latest data. At a low point in June, that figure was below 900.
“We need to step things up at this stage of the pandemic,” Newsom said late last month when he introduced the vaccine verification program for state employees and health care workers. “Our projections are sobering.”