After months of reluctance, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandate on Wednesday that all California teachers and staff working on school campuses be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly.
It's the first such statewide mandate in the nation.
"We think this is the right thing to do, and we think this is a sustainable way to keep schools open," Newsom said at a Wednesday press conference at Carl B. Munck Elementary School in Oakland.
Newsom said the mandate would apply to staff as well as teachers, including "custodial staff, the bus drivers, folks that are critical to supporting the entire school ecosystem."
Until now, Newsom had stopped short of such a requirement: He spent the past several months voicing confidence in school safety protocols that were based on increased ventilation and masking, while urging all school employees to be vaccinated.
At the Wednesday press conference, Newsom was flanked by Oakland school officials and representatives, including Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who said there was "no substitute" for in-person learning, which vaccines make possible.
"Our children, especially children from low-income communities — they cannot afford to take steps backward on their education," she said. "As one of the greatest artists of all time, Marvin Gaye, reminded us: Save the children."
Children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Staffers at schools statewide will have various options to prove they've been vaccinated, according to the state's health order: They can present either a COVID-19 vaccination record card, a photocopy of the card, a photo of their vaccination card on a phone (or another electronic device), alternate documentation of vaccination from a health care provider, a digital record with a QR code compatible with a SMART Health Card reader, or documentation of vaccination from other contracted employers.
Staffers who are unvaccinated, even if they don't have symptoms, must get COVID-19 tests at least once weekly with PCR or antigen testing, according to the California Department of Public Health. Those previously infected with the coronavirus are not exempt from the testing or vaccine requirements.
Additionally, schools will be required to have a plan in place to track which workers are vaccinated and to track the testing. Schools also must report this data to local public health departments.
The state's health order applies only to K-12 schools, not higher education. Some funding is available to help schools implement the new requirements, including subsidized COVID-19 testing provided by the California Department of Public Health.