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Politics & Government

Gov. Newsom Requires California Teachers, School Employees To Be Vaccinated Or Tested

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

California's governor is telling teachers and school employees that they must be vaccinated or be tested weekly for the coronavirus. Gavin Newsom is the first governor to take this step. Here he was speaking today in Oakland.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: We think this is the right thing to do, and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself have. I have four young children. And that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe.

CHANG: All right. For more, we're joined now by KQED's education reporter Julia McEvoy in San Francisco.

Welcome.

JULIA MCEVOY, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: Hi. So what exactly does this new policy entail?

MCEVOY: Well, you know, Newsom had already issued vaccination mandates for state employees where those who don't get the shots have to be tested. And he's requiring the state's health care workers be vaccinated with only medical exemptions allowed. So now, really, with the schools reopening and the delta variant on the uptick here, you know, this move by the governor is one more way to try and keep the virus from reaching unvaccinated children, you know, not just the under-12 who can't get the shot but even those 12- to 16-year-olds who haven't been vaccinated yet. And this policy is going to affect some 300,000 teachers and tens of thousands more support staff across the state.

CHANG: But how will this vaccine mandate be enforced?

MCEVOY: Yeah. Well, you know, with other mandates, such as the universal mask mandate here in California, the state has really left it up to individual districts to figure out how to enforce. And I'm thinking that's also going to be the case here. You know, so far, what we've seen from districts that have already announced the teacher vaccination requirement - in Oakland and San Francisco, for example, these districts already have been asking teachers to tell them whether they've been vaccinated or not. And in Oakland, the district says 92% have already been immunized. These are teachers who are uploading their proof of vaccination. So with today's announcement, all schools in the state must be in compliance by October 15 for vaccinations. And then they have to show that they've got weekly testing set up for those who remain unvaccinated.

CHANG: So how are teachers and teacher unions reacting to this announcement?

MCEVOY: The California Teachers Association supports this move, and it says 90% of its members are already vaccinated. Teachers' unions in the big urban districts like LA, San Francisco, Oakland - those teachers have all been echoing pretty much what the national teachers associations have been saying. One special education teacher in San Francisco I spoke with - his name is Steven O'Reilly. He says, look; it's going to be hard to keep those youngest students' masks on. And they're germ-spreaders, so he's for this.

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STEVEN O'REILLY: We are concerned about the children getting sick. And, you know, somebody could be asymptomatic and could be spreading it. We don't know. And so I think the vaccinations is the best way to go.

MCEVOY: And I have spoken with a teacher in Oakland who has chosen not to be vaccinated. But when I asked her if she would mind being tested weekly, she said she wouldn't object.

CHANG: Well, we did hear Governor Newsom talk about his own concerns as a parent at the top of this interview. What are other parents telling you so far about how they're feeling?

MCEVOY: You know, I think parents of kids who can't be vaccinated because they're under 12 have to feel some relief here. I was listening to the San Francisco school board meeting last night, and parents there were praising the district and teachers for agreeing to their vaccination mandate, which is exactly what the governor announced today. San Francisco actually beat him to it. And this would cut down essentially on the number of adults who can enter the building possibly carrying COVID asymptomatically. And that has got to help keep their kids safe.

CHANG: That is KQED reporter Julia McEvoy joining us from San Francisco.

Thank you.

MCEVOY: So good to be with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.