California will become the first state in the U.S. to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing as schools return from summer break amid growing concerns about the highly contagious delta variant, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.
The new policy applies to both public and private schools and will affect more than 800,000 employees, including about 320,000 public school teachers and a host of support staff such as cafeteria workers and cleaners, the state’s public health department said. It will also apply to school volunteers.
Newsom announced the new policy at a San Francisco Bay Area school that reopened earlier this week to in-person classes. Many California schools are back in session, with others starting in the coming weeks.
“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.”
Several large school districts in the state have issued similar requirements in recent days, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Long Beach Unified.
California, like the rest of the country, has seen a troubling surge in COVID-19 infections because of the delta variant, which represents the vast majority of new cases. It has affected children more than previous strains of the virus, prompting a growing number of teachers unions to ease earlier opposition to vaccine mandates.
California’s two largest teachers unions, both powerful political allies to the governor, said Wednesday they fully supported Newsom’s policy.
The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers both cited state and national polling that indicates nearly 90 per cent of educators have been vaccinated but said the rising spread of the delta variant, particularly among children, makes the new policy necessary. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
While Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced last week that all Department of Education staffers would be required to disclose their vaccination status or face weekly testing, California’s order is far more sweeping, applying to all staff who work in both public and private schools in the country’s most populous state.
Over the past few weeks, Newsom has mandated that all health-care workers must be fully vaccinated and required that all state employees get vaccinated or choose weekly testing. The weekly testing schedule is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For schools, Newsom had already issued a mask mandate that applies to teachers and students. But until Wednesday, he had left the decision of whether to require vaccines up to local districts.
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | What’s being done to improve indoor air quality for students:
What’s happening around the world
As of Thursday morning, more than 204.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to the coronavirus tracker maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.3 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s capital will go into lockdown for a week from Thursday after a single case of COVID-19 was detected and the virus was found in wastewater. Canberra joins Sydney, Melbourne and several cities in New South Wales state that are locked down due to the delta variant.
The infection is the first locally acquired case in the city of 460,000 since July 10 last year. The source of the infection was unknown, Australian Capital Territory Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said.
New Zealand plans to allow quarantine-free entry to vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries from early 2022, as it looks to open its borders again after nearly 18 months of pandemic-induced isolation.
In the Middle East, Turkey is considering mandating regular negative PCR tests from vaccine-hesitant parents as the country prepares to return to face-to-face education. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the government was determined to reopen schools on Sept. 6.
In Europe, Russia on Thursday reported a record-high 808 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours and 21,932 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,294 in Moscow. Russia’s daily reported cases have gradually dipped from a peak in July that authorities blamed on the infectious delta variant and a slow vaccination rate.
France will share 670,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses with Vietnam to help the Asian country tackle the virus, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
In the Americas, Chile on Wednesday began administering booster shots to those already inoculated with Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine in a bid to lock in early success following one of the world’s fastest mass vaccination drives.
In Africa, the Kenyan oxygen production firm Hewatele is doubling production this year to keep up with surging demand from hospitals treating critically ill COVID-19 patients, it said.