President Joe Biden reassured Americans on Monday that the omicron variant “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic” – raising questions about the strategy Governor Gavin Newsom will use to respond to a form of COVID-19 on which much remains unknown.
The governor, who returned to California on Sunday night after a Thanksgiving trip to Mexico, has not publicly addressed the omicron variant except for a tweet on Saturday urging Californians to get vaccinated and boosted.
But local governments and school districts are moving forward with their own plans to quell the virus. The San Diego Unified School District, which was temporarily barred from implementing its student immunization mandate on Sunday due to a clause allowing pregnant students to request exemptions, said on Monday it had already taken action to remove this clause and expects the mandate to be reinstated shortly.
Also on Monday, San Diego City Council approved a vaccination mandate that requires all city employees to submit proof of vaccination or apply for a medical or religious exemption by Wednesday. The move comes despite intense opposition from the city’s police union, which reported that around 709 police officers, or 37 percent of the department’s employees, were not vaccinated as of November 17.
Deputy Police Chief Paul Connelly: âI think it is evident that any loss of our valuable employees will negatively affect our staffing levels and in turn affect our ability to meet the expectations of the community to serve them effectively and efficiently. efficient.
The Los Angeles Police Department, meanwhile, began firing proceedings for five officers and one civilian employee who did not agree to the terms of the city’s vaccination mandate; others could be fired if they miss the Dec. 18 inoculation deadline. And Los Angeles began enforcing its ordinance on Monday requiring nearly all indoor businesses to check the vaccination status of customers.
Today also marks the deadline for Sacramento City Unified students to submit proof of at least their first dose of vaccine. Students who have still not been vaccinated as of Jan. 30 will be transferred to distance learning, the school district said. Such requirements have prompted some California families to enroll their children in “learning centers,” programs that are not considered schools in the eyes of the state and therefore do not have to comply with the requirements. vaccines.
Vaccination incentives for school personnel
Some California school districts, in an effort to get ahead of the deadlines for the California Covid-19 vaccine mandate and reduce already glaring staff shortages, are paying teachers and other staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Enterprise Elementary School District in Shasta County is one of the latest to offer vaccine incentives to school staff. In August, district officials agreed to pay $ 500 to each employee fully vaccinated against Covid by October 4 – 11 days before the state deadline for school staff to get vaccinated or begin weekly testing.
The district, which had vaccinated 40% of its staff at the start of the school year, now has 62% vaccinated – including 70% of its teachers. All vaccinated employees received the benefit, even those vaccinated before the start of the incentive program.
While there is no way of knowing whether the 283 staff who received the inducement decided to get the vaccine because of it, Superintendent Heather Armelino said some school staff had told him that it had encouraged them sooner than they had expected.
âOur goal has been to stay open and in person and despite an increase at the start of the school year, we were able to do that,â said Armelino. “It was definitely better than a year ago, when it wasn’t always the case.”
Although only a handful of districts in California have offered cash incentives to vaccinating staff, the practice is popular in other states where Covid infection rates are higher and vaccination rates are lower. In Mississippi, several school districts are offering cash to staff who get vaccinated, including incentives of up to $ 1,000 per employee in the Pascagoula-Gautier and Vicksburg-Warren school districts.
In California, vaccination incentives for K-12 school staff also appear to be more popular in places where community transmission rates of Covid are high and vaccination rates low. As of Wednesday, only 52.3% of Shasta County residents aged 12 and over were fully immunized. The state’s vaccination rate for this age group is 79.8%.
Enterprise Elementary School District officials hope their push for vaccination will reduce the time staff spend on Covid testing and keep teachers in classrooms rather than at home in quarantine, Armelino said. A shortage of replacements has made it difficult for the district to find replacements for teachers when they are ill or quarantined.
âI would say it’s the norm to have open classrooms every day, so we often have administrators covering them, or coaches and other specialists stepping in,â she said.
Some school districts, community colleges and universities have also offered incentives for students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. San Francisco State University, for example, organized a drawing for the vaccinated San Francisco Unified students. The prize: a full scholarship to the university. Los Angeles Unified has also set aside $ 5 million for student raffle prizes that include everything from gift cards to tickets to Disneyland.
Officials at the Enterprise Elementary School District can give students ages 5 to 11 books and games if they attend the district immunization clinics offered, Armelino said.
Vaccination incentives for staff and students may become more common in California next year as districts prepare for a new state vaccination mandate announced last month by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Under the new mandate, all students and employees in public and private schools must be vaccinated by July to be on campus. They will no longer be able to be tested as an alternative to a vaccine, unless they are eligible for medical or personal belief exemptions.
Like many rural district officials in California, Armelino is waiting to see if state lawmakers pass a bill that would eliminate personal belief exemptions for required vaccinations – a move she fears would put Enterprise Elementary School District. in a precarious staff position.
âWe have heard from employees and families that they will not come back if the vaccine is required,â Armelino said. âWe recently surveyed our families. Of those who responded, 70% said they did not plan to vaccinate their children, and 80% said personal belief was important to them.
State lawmakers have indicated they are considering legislation to strengthen the Covid vaccine requirement, which could include removing some exemptions or describing how families should get exemptions.
The Porterville Unified School District in Tulare County and the Manteca Unified School District in San Joaquin County have also launched vaccination incentive programs to avoid staff shortages.
The Porterville program, which began July 1, offered $ 500 to each teacher and staff member who was fully immunized by October 16. If staff members are not vaccinated or do not wish to take a weekly test, they are sent home without pay, according to a memorandum of understanding between the district and its teachers’ union.
Tulare County has high Covid transmission rates and 57.4% of its residents aged 12 and over were vaccinated as of November 18.
Porterville District spokesperson Jason Pommier said the district’s vaccination push “the numbers have been pretty good.” The district did not provide additional information on the incentive program.
The Manteca Unified School District began offering teachers and other staff with vaccine incentives in May after several teachers were quarantined, making it difficult to staff classrooms, the superintendent said. Deputy Roger Goatcher.
âThere were times when we had difficulty with the staff,â he said. âObviously, a student who tested positive in a classroom would sideline the whole class and the teacher. “
San Joaquin County has high community transmission rates. As of November 18, 66.3% of its residents aged 12 and over were vaccinated.
After negotiating with their unions, the district offered each school staff $ 350 once they were fully immunized. The district gave employees until June 30 to get vaccinated if they wanted to be eligible for the money. Employees who started working this school year were offered $ 200 to get the vaccine.
The district, which serves 25,000 students from transition kindergarten to adult education, had about 68% of its staff immunized when the program began. Today, 77% of its 3,000 staff have been vaccinated, including 81% of its teachers.
District leaders do not fully attribute the increase to incentives, saying more district staff signed up for vaccinations after each wave of Covid hit the community.
âObviously, the allowance itself was not large enough to push those who still had concerns to the extreme, but it did allow us to recognize people,â said Superintendent Clark Burke.
Burke is not sure the district will offer another round of incentives, although officials continue to encourage their staff to immunize to reduce infection rates and keep students in school.
âWe have to stay focused on the students and what we’re here for,â Burke said. âWe have a responsibility to educate children, and that is our main goal. Keeping them safe and accommodating them is a way for us to provide top quality education, and it must be at the forefront of public education decision making.