Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff at all California public and private schools as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the state and nation.
During a news conference in Oakland, the governor ordered that all California public school employees either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to a regular test proving they are not infected with the coronavirus, making California the first in the country to implement such a measure.
"To give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning, we are urging all school staff to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic," Newsom said in a statement. "As a father, I look forward to the start of the school year and seeing all California kids back in the classroom."
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The new policy for school staff takes effect Thursday, and schools must be in full compliance by Oct. 15, the governor's office said.
“We think this is the right thing to do, and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the number one anxiety that parents like myself have for young children,” said Newsom, who is a father of four. “That is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe.”
Newsom already had issued a similar mandate for employees of state agencies as well as for state medical workers, with some religious and health exemptions.
Several school districts are resuming in-person learning this week, including Palo Alto Unified, Pleasanton Unified, Sequoia Union, Mountain View and South San Francisco Unified.
As the school year starts, with most students returning to in-person learning, concerns grow about the possibility of the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant. In East Contra Costa County, districts in Brentwood and Oakley reopened last week and saw a spike in cases among students and staff.
The outbreak in the Brentwood Union School District grew from 10 confirmed cases to 19 as of Tuesday, and at least 117 students and four staffers there were "showing symptoms" of COVID-19 but had not yet tested positive.
Details of how the new policy will be enforced were not announced. Labor unions say those logistics still need to be worked out.
Matthew Hardy, a spokesman for the California Federation of Teachers, said the union supports the plan that allows an option for testing.
“We do not think people should lose their jobs over this,” he said.
Schools are required to be in full compliance with the new policy by Oct. 15, giving schools time to verify vaccination status and have in place weekly testing for unvaccinated staff, said Amelia Matier, a spokeswoman in the governor’s office.
Newsom did not rule out expanding the requirement to students after a vaccine is approved for children under 12 years old.
“We’ll consider all options in the future,” he said, in response to a question. “We believe this is a meaningful first step.”
As of last week, California administered 335,009 new first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, a 24% increase over the previous two weeks and a 62% increase compared to the week of July 5- 11, the governor's office said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.