All K-12 school employees will be required to verify vaccination status or undergo weekly testing this fall, according to a new order released by the California Department of Public Health on Wednesday.
Citing concerns over the threat the delta variant poses to unvaccinated students, CDPH officials said Wednesday the order is necessary to ensure a safe and full reopening in the fall. California is the first state in the nation to instate this requirement ahead of the 2021-2022 school year.
“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,” Governor Gavin 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.”
The new order will go into effect today, and school staff are expected to comply by Oct. 15.
In a statement, CDPH Director and the state’s Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón said the new order will allow the state to fulfill its commitment of reopening schools this fall.
“There’s no substitute for in-person instruction, and California will continue to lead the nation in keeping students and staff safe while ensuring fully open classrooms,” Dr. Aragón said in a statement. “Today’s order will help the state’s continued efforts to increase vaccinations, similar to the orders encouraging state and health care workers and businesses to get vaccinated.”
To show proof of vaccination, school staff can show their physical vaccination card, a photo of the card, documentation of vaccination from a health care provider or a digital record of the card, according to the new order.
In turn, those who are not fully vaccinated will be required to undergo testing at least once every week using either PCR or antigen testing.
The state will also require that schools comply with a universal masking mandate in all K-12 schools in the fall due to the number of children who remain unvaccinated. While children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, less than 41% of the state’s eligible 12-to-17-year-olds were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to a CDPH news release. In Santa Barbara County, only 36% of eligible 12-15 year olds were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday.
The new requirement for school staff joins a list of measures enacted by the state in recent weeks to slow the surge of the highly transmissible delta variant. Within the last three weeks, the state released new orders requiring all state workers to verify vaccine status, unveiled a new vaccine mandate for all health care workers and enacted a new requirement that requires hospital visitors to provide proof of vaccination.
While the new state order released Wednesday does not apply to staff involved in higher education, multiple colleges and universities across Santa Barbara County are unveiling their own vaccine requirements in an effort to keep students safe.
On Tuesday, the Allan Hancock College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to instate a vaccine mandate ahead of the fall semester. Students will be required to provide proof of vaccination as a condition for entering campus buildings, attending in-person classes or using a college service off-campus. To incentivize the vaccine, the college is offering $250 gift cards to all students who provide proof of full vaccination.
“Allan Hancock College remains committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and the community we serve, as well as maintaining higher education access and attainment for our students,” said Allan Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin G. Walthers in a statement. “The current state of the pandemic calls for the need to vaccinate our college population, and the college will support and implement the Board’s decision to mandate vaccinations.”
Both SBCC and UCSB have adopted similar vaccine mandates going into the fall semester.
In addition to schools, local City Councils across the county have also begun instituting vaccine verification systems, testing requirements and/or mask mandates for their staff. On Monday, the City of Goleta announced that it would require all city employees to verify vaccination status or undergo weekly testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Vaccines are the best way to bring our employees back into the workplace while keeping our workforce and their families safe,” Kristy Schmidt, the Goleta assistant city manager, told the News-Press in a statement. “The best way to reduce the risk that unvaccinated employees will bring an illness into the workplace is to require weekly COVID testing and masking. Bottom line is we want to do everything we can to keep our co-workers, their families and our community safe and healthy, especially considering the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.”
A similar requirement could be coming for Santa Barbara city employees, Mayor Cathy Murillo told the News-Press on Wednesday. According to the mayor, the city is weighing a vaccine mandate for employees but is “moving slowly” on the implementation process because of pending Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines and the state’s ongoing discussions over whether a vaccine mandate should be required for first responders.
If the state would require vaccination for first responders, this would impact the City’s fire and police departments.
“For now, we are working with our public employees to come to an agreement,” Ms. Murillo said. “We would rather work with our employees rather than impose something on them when people still have questions.”
“Of course, I encourage all employees to get vaccinated,” she continued. “I’m vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do for the community and for your family and for yourself.”