California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that all educators and employees at the state’s public schools must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing when they return to work.
The move reverses Newsom’s previous decision not to include school employees among those who must comply with the mandate, which initially included health care workers, state employees and anyone who works in high-risk congregate settings.
“We think this is the right thing to do,” Newsom said at a press conference in Oakland. “And we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself ― I have four young children ― [have] and that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe, to keep our kids healthy.”
Newsom’s original decision not to include school employees in the mandate received some pushback from parents concerned that a coronavirus outbreak among teachers could force their kids, who must be masked at school, back into distance learning. Additionally, only children ages 12 and older are currently cleared to receive a vaccine.
Newsom said expanding the mandate is key to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus in California as the delta variant takes hold.
“While we’re proud of the fact that California has among the highest vaccination rates in America ― now 77.5% of all eligible Californians have received at least one dose ― it’s not good enough,” the governor said. “We have more work to do.”
San Francisco and Oakland are among the cities in California that had already implemented the same mandate for its teachers. Newsom also noted that an “overwhelming majority” of educators have already been vaccinated, but that he wanted to increase vaccination rates among other school employees, such as bus drivers, custodians and other school support staff.
Newsom’s announcement comes days after the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country with 1.7 million members, said the union had shifted positions and now supports vaccination mandates for teachers.
“The circumstances have changed. It weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”