Updated 4:07 p.m.
California will require that all teachers and school staff be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19, becoming the first state to impose such measures ahead of the new school year.
The move comes as students return to classrooms around the state, and as the delta variant has pushed case and hospitalization rates to levels not seen since the winter. The number of Californians hospitalized with COVID-19 has doubled over the past two weeks.
Around 54% of Californians are fully vaccinated and 66% have received at least one dose. Currently, kids younger than 12 aren't eligible for any of the approved vaccines.
Under the new rules announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, all employees in private and public schools will need to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, beginning Aug. 12 Schools must be in full compliance by Oct. 15.
“Not everybody will be overwhelmed by this, but we think it will be well received because it's the right thing to do, to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe — our children,” Newsom said during a press conference.
Hawaii recently announced all public workers, including teachers, would be required to get the vaccine or be tested weekly. Those rules did not include private schools.
Some parents are concerned about their children catching the virus since younger kids cannot get vaccinated. Still, many are eager to get kids back in the classroom after a year of mostly virtual learning.
While serious cases of the coronavirus are rare in children, the number of total cases has been increasing. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association found children accounted for nearly 1 in 5 new cases nationwide. (Here are some tips to keep your child safe from the delta variant.)
The California Teachers Association — the state’s largest teachers union — released a statement supporting the move Wednesday, saying that vaccination combined with masks, testing and physical distancing were needed to keep schools safe.
"Educators want to be in classrooms with their students, and the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone who is medically eligible to be vaccinated, with robust testing and multi-tiered safety measures," CTA President E. Toby Boyd said in a statement. "Today’s announcement is an appropriate next step to ensure the safety of our school communities and to protect our youngest learners under 12 who are not yet vaccine eligible from this highly contagious Delta variant"
According to the union, 90% of CTA members are vaccinated.
"The overwhelming majority of our teachers have been vaccinated — not everybody,” Newsom said. “But we need to get the other staff, support staff, vaccinated as well with some urgency.”
Some districts — including Long Beach, Oakland and San Francisco — already have vaccine requirements in place. The Sacramento City Unified School District began discussing a possible requirement with its teachers union this week.
David Fisher, president of Sacramento City Teachers Association, said the union supported the new rules and had been preparing to discuss them with the district before the governor's announcement.
"It's a conversation we've been having for a while, but we actually suggested to our district that same idea that all teachers be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing," Fisher said.
In a statement, SCUSD Superintendent Jorge A. Aguilar said the district was also behind the new requirements.
“We are pleased with this announcement which will help ensure a safe approach as we return to in-person learning,” said Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge A. Aguilar. “This proactive decision by our state to help keep our students and staff protected will be a crucial component in controlling the spread of COVID-19 on school campuses.
The state is already requiring students and adults wear masks indoors at K-12 schools when students are present, though they are leaving it to districts to decide how to handle those who choose not to do so. Masks are optional outdoors.
Some counties, including Sacramento and Yolo, are currently requiring masks be worn in indoor public spaces regardless of a person's vaccination status.
The announcement is the latest move by Newsom and California’s public health officials to pressure residents who haven’t been vaccinated to get the shot. The state recently announced it would require all health care workers to be vaccinated, only providing exemptions for religious or medical exemptions. State employees are also required to be vaccinated or be tested weekly.
Dr. Anthony Fauci came out in support of mandating vaccines for teachers in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, saying "we're in a critical situation now." Fauci added that he expects vaccine mandates to expand after vaccines gain full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Steve Milne and Nicole Nixon contributed to this report.
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