California’s long-awaited “endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID — and changes to the statewide school mask mandate — could be unveiled as soon as Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
The governor’s remarks — which came during a press conference at which he signed into law a restoration of extra paid time off for COVID-related sick leave and assorted tax credits for businesses — offered the clearest glimpse yet into the state’s forthcoming plan for treating COVID like any other virus.
Although details remain murky, here are three key takeaways I gleaned from Newsom’s comments:
- New plans would likely allow for some level of local control. “As we move forward with … yet another phase of this pandemic, we do so mindful that each county local health officer, based on local conditions, will make determinations for themselves,” Newsom said. (Case in point: While eight of nine Bay Area counties will follow the state and let their indoor mask mandates expire after Feb. 15, Santa Clara County is joining Los Angeles County in holding off until specific conditions are met.)
- Educators are concerned about the consequences of low youth vaccination rates if school mask mandates are lifted. “That’s why we continue to work with those local health officers and local superintendents … school boards and leaders within the system and try to address their concerns as it relates to community spread, as it relates to what they anticipate experiencing once those mask requirements are removed,” Newsom said.
- Although conditions will continue to change, the state is prepared to take a definitive step in its approach to the virus. “We also are in a date with destiny, we recognize that we want to turn the page on the status quo,” Newsom said.
But even if the state were to lift its school mask mandate, the even more explosive issue of school vaccine mandates remains — and some district deadlines are rapidly approaching.
- Louis Freedberg, a veteran education journalist and past executive director of EdSource, recently opined that it would be “an educational and political impossibility” to keep the state’s sizable number of unvaccinated kids “out of school and in remote learning.”
- But Los Angeles Unified, anticipating that thousands of students won’t meet its vaccination deadline, voted Tuesday to move ahead with plans to establish six new online schools that could enroll up to 15,000 students.
- And if districts refuse to enforce the state’s inoculation mandate, they could lose significant amounts of state funding and liability insurance coverage.
In other education news:
- After an emotional eight-hour meeting, Oakland Unified — facing a massive budget deficit partly caused by declining enrollment — voted Wednesday morning to close or merge 11 schools over the next two years. The district’s teachers union, advocates, students and community members are pledging to fight the closures — including with possible strikes and lawsuits — pointing out they disproportionately affect low-income communities of color.