California will require that all teachers and school employees show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or get tested on a weekly basis, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.
The public health order, which is the first of its kind in the nation, takes effect on Aug. 12, but schools will have until Oct. 15 to be in full compliance.
“We think this is the right thing to do,” Newsom said, “and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself have … and that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe, to keep our kids healthy.”
With most schools preparing to reopen for the fall semester, state health officials say California is experiencing its fastest increase of COVID-19 transmission since the pandemic started.
According to the state Department of Public Health, case rates have increased tenfold since early June, rising to 22.7 new cases per 100,000 people per day. In Orange County, Wednesday’s adjusted daily case rate was 19 per 100,000 residents.
The Delta variant, which is two times more contagious than the original virus, is causing most new infections in California.
Similar vaccine-or-testing requirements were announced in recent weeks for both state employees and health care workers. But in July, Newsom was calling only for voluntary vaccinations for school staff.
This week, a number of California school districts announced they planned to seek proof of vaccination or regular testing, including Long Beach, San Francisco and Oakland, where the governor delivered his remarks on Wednesday. He said the decision to make it a state mandate followed “robust discussions” in light of the latest data.
California leads the nation with over 46 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, and more than 77 percent of those eligible have received at least one dose. But state officials say they’re seeing increasing numbers of people who refused to get the vaccine being admitted to ICUs and dying.
According to the CDPH, less than 41 percent of children aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. Kids under 12 are not currently eligible for any vaccines.
Face coverings required
Regardless of vaccination status, face coverings remain a state requirement for all students when they’re inside on school campuses, as well as for adults when they’re indoors at school and in the presence of students.
“There’s no substitute for in-person instruction, and California will continue to lead the nation in keeping students and staff safe while ensuring fully open classrooms,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH director and state public health officer. “Today’s order will help the state’s continued efforts to increase vaccinations, similar to the orders encouraging state and health care workers and businesses to get vaccinated.”
The order to get a vaccine or test regularly applies to public and private schools serving students in transitional kindergarten through grade 12. It does not cover home schools, child care or higher education.
Several options will be used to show proof of vaccination status for school employees, including the standard white Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cards, a photo of the vaccination card or an image of verification stored on a phone or electronic device.
Unvaccinated employees must be tested at minimum once weekly, and there is no exemption for testing. The state says schools may use funds through a variety of sources, and free testing resources are available through California’s K-12 schools testing program.
“To give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning, we are urging all school staff to get vaccinated,” Newsom said in a statement released Wednesday. “Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic. As a father, I look forward to the start of the school year and seeing all California kids back in the classroom.”