LOS ANGELES – Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California would become the first state to mandate that all teachers and other school employees either be vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.
The delta variant continues its spread, causing the largest number of cases and hospitalizations in some states since the pandemic began. Newsom’s announcement comes five weeks before the Democratic governor faces a recall election that built up momentum last year after the state’s strict COVID-19 mandates.
The order requires teachers and all school employees, including custodians, aides and bus drivers, to show proof of their vaccination status to their school district. Employees who are not vaccinated must submit to weekly testing.
“We think this is the right thing to do, and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open,” Newsom said at a school in Oakland. He noted the measure aims to reassure parents that the state’s schools “are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe, to keep our kids healthy.”
California, the nation’s most populous state, is the first to issue a mandate for all its teachers and school employees, including those working at private schools. Hawaii issued a similar order a week ago that applies to public school employees.
California employs about 320,000 people at more than 1,000 school districts. It has more than 6.1 million students. The order says schools and employees must be in compliance by Oct. 15.
It’s not surprising that California issued such a broad mandate, said Rupali Limaye, a professor of public health who studies vaccine decision-making at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They’ve always been a bit of a trailblazer, really following the public health evidence, and are less likely to bow to political pressure.”
Both the federal government and state and local leaders have issued mandate after mandate on testing and shots in hopes of picking up vaccination rates amid a wave of hospitalizations in children and teens – a group that was thought to be safer from the virus and dangerous symptoms.
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Several school districts in California issued similar orders mandating either vaccines for employees or regular testing. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a COVID-19 adviser to President Joe Biden, said Tuesday that he believed vaccines should be required for school employees.
“I’m going to upset some people on this, but I think we should,” Fauci said on MSNBC about mandates for teachers. “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. You would wish that people would see why it’s so important to get vaccinated.”
He said such an order probably wouldn’t come from the federal government but rather from governors and local leaders.
“I think we’re in such a serious situation now that under certain circumstances, mandates should be done,” Fauci said.
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Newsom issued an order that requires state employees either be vaccinated or get regular testing for the virus. He set the nation’s first vaccine mandate for health care workers last week, requiring all employees in health care settings to be vaccinated by Sept. 30, about 2.2 million workers.
Newsom’s handling of schooling during the virus has become a major issue in the recall drive. He was criticized for not moving faster to reopen schools and have students return to classrooms, even as other states returned to in-person learning.
Since the return to in-person learning in the state, Newsom announced all students would be required to wear masks in schools – a move that correlates with federal guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says students and school employees should wear face coverings indoors.
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise