SF Parents March to City Hall for School Reopening

Parents, students and even some teachers marched from San Francisco’s City Hall to the San Francisco Unified School District headquarters Saturday.

They’re calling on the school district and school unions to reach a labor agreement by Feb. 18, their next bargaining deadline, to safely reopen schools for in-person learning by March.

Meredith Willa Dodson is an executive member and co-founder of Decrease the Distance, a collective of San Francisco Unified School District parents, caregivers and advocates that organized the event. She is also an SFUSD parent.

“We're at 11 months now, coming up on a year of the pandemic and school closures,” she said. “We're really seeing big impacts to the kids and to the families.”

She says they’ve seen schools in districts across the country that have been able to reopen safely. “And even in our own city, schools have been able to open the private and the parochial schools,” Dodson said.

That makes up more than 15,000 students who have returned for in-person classes already and with no major outbreaks, Dodson says.

The district and teachers union must come to an agreement before schools can be reopened. The city of San Francisco also sued the district Wednesday to reopen schools.

Multiple school unions said Friday they will agree to reopen when the county moves to the red tier and if all staff can get vaccinated. Without vaccines, they agreed to reopen under the orange tier. San Francisco is currently under the purple tier.

Dodson says the unions’ announcement is “a move in the right direction” but has concerns that these terms may still be “too stringent” and could prevent kids from returning to school for the remainder of the academic year.

The school district previously announced that its unlikely middle and high schoolers will be returning to in-person instruction this school year.

In a Friday press conference, Rafael Picazo, the school district chapter president of SEIU 1021 representing custodians and other staff, said he was concerned that COVID-19 impacts hitting Black and Latino populations the hardest would also be reflected in schools.

“Communities of color have been hit twice as hard,” Picazo said. “Reopening schools without proper safety protocols is irresponsible and dangerous to all students, teachers and families and workers, and especially our communities.”

Negotiations between the school district and its labor unions over reopening are ongoing.

This is a news brief. For the full story on the debate for school reopenings in San Francisco and the lawsuit to compel it, click here

Julie Chang

Cal/OSHA to Consider Rules Allowing Vaccinated Employees to Work Unmasked

The state agency responsible for creating safety rules for the workplace will meet on Thursday to consider adopting new guidelines around employee masking and social distancing.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board released its updated guidance late Friday, which, if approved, would do away with most requirements involving masks and physical distancing for fully vaccinated workers.

There are some exceptions, including locations like classrooms and mass transit, where masks would still be required for everyone, or in the event of outbreaks. General physical distancing requirements for workers would be dropped, except for certain workplaces during major outbreaks.

Additionally, under the updated guidelines, employers would be required to provide “clean and undamaged” face coverings — but not necessary N95 masks — for employees not fully vaccinated. The issue became a pain point for business groups who voiced concerns around the cost of supplies needed by health care professionals.

The updated rules are generally consistent with the broader guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health that will take effect Tuesday on the state’s big reopening day.

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But there’s a caveat — even if passed on June 17, the new rules wouldn’t take effect until 10 days after due to the administrative law process.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’d consider stepping in and using his executive powers to expedite the order at a press conference on Friday.

“I'm very mindful of those gaps and we'll address them appropriately,” he said.

Unless the governor acts, the current more restrictive worksite rules will remain in effect during that window. Under current rules, workers would have to wear masks unless every employee in a room is fully vaccinated.

Julie Chang and The Associated Press

COVID Survivors Call for Financial Support for Memorials, Medical Leave

Some survivors of COVID-19 are calling for direct financial support and more medical leave to help those hurt by the virus.

Dozens of people across the nation who’ve had direct experiences with COVID-19, like getting sick from the virus and suffering long-term effects, or who’ve lost a loved one to coronavirus gathered virtually on Saturday to participate in the “Summer 2021 COVID Survivor Summit.”

The group is calling for national paid family and medical leave, funds for COVID memorials and programs supporting COVID survivors, including scholarships for children impacted.

There have been 62,508 COVID-19 deaths as of June 12 in California since the start of the pandemic, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The summit was put together by a national grassroots and nonpartisan group known as COVID Survivors for Change, with the goal of helping survivors find ways to use their experiences in driving policy and cultural change.

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The nation and the pandemic are “at an inflection moment,” said Chris Kocher, event organizer with the group.

“There is this emotional shift in the nation. People are looking to move on. We hear a lot about this ‘get back to normal,’ right? These very heartbreaking terms that are not available for millions of Americans,” he said, adding that there’s an increased focus on raising awareness around the long-term impacts of COVID.

Kocher added, “Yes, the pandemic is beginning to come to an end, but 40,000 children have lost a parent, millions of Americans are living with the symptoms of long-COVID.”

Survivors expressed concerns about lifting COVID restrictions, like masking and social distancing requirements, especially when young children remain unvaccinated and when it’s still unclear how to check an unmasked person’s vaccination status.

Summit participants learned about how to lobby lawmakers and organize local marches and awareness campaigns.

Julie Chang

California Updates Mask Mandate for June 15 Reopening: New Details From State

The California Department of Public Health confirmed Wednesday that the state will align with federal face masking guidance when the state reopens next week.

The masking guidance as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would enable fully vaccinated people to forego wearing a mask in most indoor and outdoor situations, with some exceptions.

Masks are still required for everyone at K-12 schools and child care centers, on public transit and in health care settings — including long-term care facilities. They’ll also be mandatory in correctional facilities, detention centers, homeless and emergency shelters, and cooling centers.

"Fully vaccinated people can resume everyday activities without wearing a mask, except in a few limited settings that are required by federal and state rules," state Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Wednesday during a briefing on the updated guidance.

People who are not fully vaccinated will still be required to wear a mask or face covering when indoors, Ghaly said, or when attending large outdoor events like concerts or sports.

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State officials have previously stated their intent to lift most masking requirements when the state lifts its reopening tier system, formally known as the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, next Tuesday.

While the CDC issued its updated masking guidance on May 13, Ghaly and other state officials said they would hold off on implementing the guidance until June 15 to determine how to enforce the new rules.

On Wednesday, Ghaly said that enforcement mechanism will be, more or less, an honor system between businesses and their customers, if a business does not require customers to confirm their vaccination status or require all customers to wear a mask regardless of their status.

"Business owners will need to post requirements that people who are unvaccinated are still required to wear masks," he said. "But if somebody comes into their business or their operation without a mask, it should be considered a self-attestation for someone being vaccinated."

The state will also not require most businesses to check someone's vaccination status before they are allowed inside without a mask.

That latitude will not be afforded to indoor events with 5,000 or more attendees, which will be required through at least Oct. 1, to confirm that attendees are fully vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours prior to the event.

According to CDPH, over 53% of eligible Californians are now fully vaccinated.

Ghaly stayed mum on how the state aligning with the CDC's masking guidance could or should affect the current workplace guidance by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which requires fully vaccinated workers to wear a mask at all times if they are in a room with someone who is unvaccinated.

Cal/OSHA's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved the updated workplace rules last week, and is expected to hold a special meeting Wednesday evening to discuss further updates to its workplace masking guidance.

Ghaly declined to opine on Cal/OSHA's decision-making process, citing its status as an independent commission, but emphasized that the three coronavirus vaccines available are remarkably effective at preventing serious coronavirus-related illness and death.

The state's lifting of the tier system and modification of masking requirements will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

— Bay City News and KQED's Laura Klivans

Yellow! Alameda and Napa Counties Move Into Less Restrictive Reopening Tier — A Week Before State Reopens

Just in the nick of time.

Alameda and Napa counties moved into the yellow tier of the state's pandemic reopening system Tuesday, just one week before the state lifts the tier system completely.

The two counties will be allowed to expand capacity limits for indoor business, like restaurants and gyms, as well as outdoor ones, like theme parks and large event venues.

The tier change and accompanying guidelines will take effect Wednesday.

"The increasing number of residents who are fully vaccinated is directly reducing case rates and helping Alameda County to move into the yellow tier ahead of the June 15 transition," Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss said in a statement.



With this move, eight of the greater Bay Area's 11 counties are now in the least restrictive tier, with only Solano, Sonoma and Contra Costa counties in the slightly more restrictive orange tier.

California is expected to lift the tier system, officially called the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, on June 15, amid plummeting COVID-19 case rates statewide in recent weeks. Over 55% of state residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

State officials have noted it may be necessary to reimplement some capacity restrictions in the future depending on factors like the proliferation of viral variants or the possibility of another winter surge in cases.

For now, however, the state is on the cusp of moving beyond the tier system for the first time since introducing it last August.

"While we are moving away from the tier system, only 53% of Alameda County residents are fully vaccinated and COVID-19 is still a very real threat to unvaccinated individuals," Moss said. "We urge all residents to continue using COVID-19 safety precautions to protect vulnerable residents including young children who are not yet eligible for vaccine."

All California residents ages 12 and up are eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine and are encouraged to contact their local health department or visit https://myturn.ca.gov for information about local vaccination sites.

Full information on the capacities at which businesses can operate in each tier can be found at https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy.

— Eli Walsh, Bay City News

California Regulators Reconsider Workplace Mask Rules ... Again

California’s workplace regulators are set to again reconsider controversial masking rules designed to protect employees against the coronavirus — requirements that business organizations say will make it harder for them to operate when the state fully reopens its economy next week.

A “special meeting” of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board was hastily scheduled for Wednesday after State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón sent a letter to the panel reiterating the state’s plans to follow federal guidance starting next Tuesday.

Aragón said the state will do away with virtually all social distancing requirements and drop the mask requirement for people who are vaccinated while “requiring face coverings for all unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses.”

That policy conflicts with the board’s vote last week to allow workers to go maskless only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The board will consider Aragón’s letter “and take action if appropriate,” board spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said.

The Cal/OSHA Board’s regulations apply in almost every workplace in the state, including workers in offices, factories and retail.

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The board at Wednesday’s meeting could withdraw the new rules that it adopted less than a week ago because those have not yet become effective, Monterroza said.

But that would at least temporarily leave in place existing emergency rules that are even more stringent, requiring all workers to keep distanced and masked even if vaccinated.

The board can’t adopt new changes without posting the proposed revisions and giving the public at least five calendar days of notice, she said. That potentially sets up further public comment and action at the board’s regularly scheduled June 17 meeting.

The board’s rules decision have put Newsom in an awkward position as the state nears what he promised would be a full reopening and while he faces a likely recall election in the fall.

Business groups have asked Newsom to use his emergency powers to intervene and rescind the board’s regulations, but Newsom indicated he was disinclined to do so when asked about taking such action last Friday.

Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilmember who wants Newsom recalled, sent an email to supporters on Tuesday that highlighted an “absurd new mask mandate” that “is not only an inconvenience to workers, but this anti-science policy imposes significant costs on small businesses and opens them up to costly frivolous lawsuits.”

The board said it will hear briefings from the state Department of Public Health and Cal/OSHA at Wednesday’s meeting before considering “the impact of the presented information” on its new rules.

The Associated Press

99% of California's Public Schools Plan to Fully Reopen In-Person This Fall, State Says

According to data released by the state Monday, 99% of the California public school districts that provide data to the state say they will fully reopen for in-person instruction this fall. The state also rolled out a series of interactive tools on its Safe Schools web portal Monday, which allow parents and educators to track school reopenings, summer instruction and COVID-19 resources for both public school districts and charter schools in real time.

Meanwhile, California is following through with its pledge to pump $4.6 billion into summer school across the state in an effort to help students who fell behind during distance learning.

The Oakland Unified School District is expecting about $277 million in state and federal COVID relief money over the next three years, according to a district spokesperson. But the cash isn’t translating into an expansion of summer school this year.

Not all OUSD parents who want to enroll kids in summer school have been able to, with spots being reserved for only those students who need it most. One Oakland parent, Susana Torres, said she tried to enroll her nephew in fifth grade summer school, but was told his grades at Manzanita SEED Dual Language Immersion Elementary School were too good.

Despite the vast majority of schools announcing plans to fully return to in-person instruction this fall, many California parents living in areas hardest hit by the pandemic – which have proven to be disproportionately African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities – have remained hesitant to send their kids back inside schools full time. The state said on Monday it will spend $1 million on a campaign to reach those parents and convince them it’s safe.

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KQED's Vanessa Rancaño contributed to this story.

- Julia McEvoy

AC Transit Cuts Social Distancing Requirement on Buses to 3 Feet

The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District will reduce the physical distancing requirement aboard its buses to 3 feet starting next week.

The transition from 6 feet to 3 feet will start Monday, according to AC Transit, and is a result of falling coronavirus cases and increased vaccination in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The transit agency has mandated that riders keep 6 feet of distance between them since March 2020.

The reduction in minimum distance for passengers will enable AC Transit to double its rider capacity on all of its buses. Currently, the agency's standard buses can carry 10 riders while its largest buses can carry 24.

Riders who live in the same household are not subject to the distancing requirement, AC Transit says. All buses are also equipped with free face coverings, hand sanitizer and air filters to improve air flow and ventilation.

—Bay City News