LOS ANGELES – Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday again pressured authorities across the state to accelerate all measures necessary to get students back to in-person classes.
Newsom has advanced measures to prioritize vaccinations for teachers — announcing recently that 10% of the all first-dose vaccines the state receives will be set aside for educators and childcare workers — but he insists schools can reopen before all those workers are inoculated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also said vaccinations are not a prerequisite for schools to open. But many teachers’ unions have balked at that idea, suggesting the shots should be required and the state should reach a lower case-transmission rate before in-person classes resume.
The governor on Monday pointed to Long Beach’s already weeks-long effort to inoculate teachers, prompting the Long Beach Unified School District to announce last week it will resume in-person classes for students up to fifth grade on March 29. He called for Long Beach’s effort to be replicated by health officials statewide, but said resuming in-person instruction is “foundational and fundamental and critical for their (students’) social and emotional health.”
“It’s foundational in terms of getting this economy open,” Newsom said. “And if you care about women, you care about moms, particularly single mothers, there’s nothing more essential and more important we can do to support working women and single moms in particular than getting our youngest kids back into school in cohorts where we can do it safely. And Long Beach is not waiting around to do that. This mayor has been doing that for weeks and weeks. Thirty- five counties have been for weeks now administering doses of vaccines to teachers, but none at the level that Long Beach is doing. … I just want to applaud that. I want to recognize that and I want to encourage that to be replicated all throughout the state of California.”
Newsom has been pushing a $6 billion school-reopening plan in Sacramento, but negotiations with state legislators have stalled. Los Angeles County school districts were officially cleared by the state last week to reopen when the county’s average daily rate of new COVID cases fell below 25 per 100,000 residents.
Under state guidelines, school districts and individual private schools in counties that meet that threshold can submit safety plans to health officials, and once those plans are approved, they can resume in-person classes for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Classes in seventh grade and higher cannot resume until the case rate falls to seven per 100,000 residents.
So far, teachers are not eligible to receive COVID vaccinations in areas overseen by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The county will make teachers eligible for the shots beginning March 1, along with other essential workers such as those in food service and law enforcement.
The problem is the continued limited supply of vaccine. Newsom said Monday supplies will likely remain restricted through March, but with a new Johnson & Johnson vaccine possibly receiving federal approval this week, he anticipated supplies will dramatically improve by April.
“I’m very confident with J&J, the end of March, April, we’re going to start seeing things really ramp up. May/June/July: game changer, all of a sudden we’re at a completely different level. So I ask people, — mindful again of being optimistic but not overly optimistic — that over the course of the next number of weeks we’re still going to be in a constrained supply environment, but over the course of the next few months, you’re going to see throughput and opportunity to expand these tiers and expand availability and access,” Newsom said.
Schools that do welcome students back need to meet a series of safety protocols — such as limited class sizes and provision of protective equipment – – while also continuing to offer a distance learning option to accommodate families wary of sending their children to in-person classes.