Will California’s strict vaccine rules help bring an end to the pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color — or further entrench and widen those longstanding disparities?
Answering that question is an increasingly urgent task for elected leaders and public health officials: Starting today, customers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter many indoor businesses in Los Angeles, including restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters and beauty salons. Business owners say the mandate — which the city plans to start enforcing on Nov. 29 and could result in fines of as much as $5,000 — could be devastating for small businesses in communities with low vaccination rates, which tend to have more Black and Latino residents.
- Kim Prince, owner of Hotville restaurant in Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw mall: “Give it another 12 months of this type of regulations, and I promise by 2024 there will be more closed restaurants in neighborhoods of color than any other neighborhood.”
The problem is particularly acute when it comes to public education. Some school districts, including Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified, have announced strict vaccine mandates that will require students to get the shot in order to attend in-person classes. But some experts and advocates say the rule — intended to prevent spread of COVID-19 on campus — could also effectively block many Black students from attending school. For example, in Alameda County, where Oakland Unified is located, only 44% of Black kids aged 12 to 17 are vaccinated, compared to 95% of Asians, 70% of whites and 67% of Latinos in the same age group, a Mercury News analysis found.
- Dr. Tyrone Howard, a UCLA education professor and director of the Black Male Institute: “It signifies to me elimination, it signifies to me exclusion. … We want Black students to have the same opportunities other students have — extracurricular experiences, access to teachers during lunch and the day.”
Providing equitable education amid the pandemic continues to be a challenge for California. A federal judge on Thursday ordered the state to provide high-quality distance learning for students with disabilities who have chosen not to return to campus, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond apologized for delays in distributing federal relief funds to private schools serving low-income families.
In other COVID news, a federal appeals court on Saturday temporarily blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. And California’s coronavirus transmission rates have risen above those in Texas and Florida, a point of concern for public health experts who note that Californians’ demand for booster shots is also lower than expected, especially among vulnerable populations. In San Francisco, for example, only 1 in 5 eligible seniors has received a booster.