California lifts vaccine mandate for school staff

Kate Brethauer, a special education teacher at Robert Louis Stevenson Intermediary School, receives her first Covid-19 vaccination along with many other local teachers at the St. Helena Foundation vaccination clinic at Napa Valley College in St. Helena on Jan. 21, 2021. CREDIT: BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE/POLARIS

Teachers and other school staff who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer have to be tested weekly to remain on campuses after this week.

Tuesday State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon rescinded a public health order requiring that all school employees show proof of vaccination or be tested at least weekly. The new policy is effective Sept. 17.

The decision was made to align state and federal health guidance and because most Californians have been vaccinated against the virus, he said.

“We’ve entered a phase of the pandemic where the majority of people in these workplace settings are vaccinated, and our youngest Californians are now eligible for vaccination too, which protects all of our communities against severe illness, hospitalization and death,” Aragon said.

“While unvaccinated individuals remain at greatest risk of serious health consequences from COVID-19 infection, weekly testing of unvaccinated groups is no longer slowing the spread as it did earlier in the pandemic due to the more infectious Omicron variants.” 

Currently, 80 percent of California residents 12 years of age and older have had the first two vaccinations that make up the primary series of vaccines, according to a press release from the health department. Just under half have received their first booster. The department did not say how many California residents have had the second booster.

Despite those high vaccination numbers, Omicron subvariants have infected vaccinated as well as unvaccinated people, although vaccinated people are less likely to be infected or to become seriously ill.

“Consequently, mandated testing of the small number of unvaccinated workers is not effectively preventing disease transmission as with the original COVID-19 virus and prior variants earlier in the pandemic,” Aragon said.

Vaccinations targeting the Omicron variant are currently available, and department officials urge California residents to stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines to protect themselves and slow the spread of the disease in their communities.

Last August California became the first state in the nation to require all school staff to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or to be tested weekly, although several individual school districts in the state had already instituted that requirement.

The decision to mandate vaccines for school staff was made after conversations with school district, labor unions and public health officers, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve relied on science and public health guidance to keep our students and school communities safe,” said Lisa Gardiner, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, in a statement today. “This moment is no different, as COVID-19 continues to evolve and more students and Californians are now vaccinated. We continue to support local decisions that include the voice and expertise of local educators and families in determining best practices for the safety of school communities.”

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