By Ana Vasudeo and Zack Kaldveer, Safely Opening Schools
As California struggled with the most intense surge of the pandemic early this year, a group of state legislators proposed an ambitious slate of Covid-related bills designed to slow the virus’s spread and save lives. A particular focus of this “Vaccine Working Group” was to bring cohesion, consistency and clarity to the state’s overall approach to keeping our schools open and safe. Included in this effort were proposals requiring schools to create official Covid testing plans, requiring all schoolchildren to get the Covid vaccine, and finally, allowing teens over 15 to get the vaccine without parental consent, among others.
Sadly, due to the continued drum beat of disinformation regarding the efficacy of the Covid vaccine, masking, and even testing, combined with a waning commitment to confronting the pandemic, of those three primary bills, only SB 1479 (school testing) made it all the way to the Governor’s desk and signed into law.
Why School Covid Testing Plans So Needed
All schools, students, and education workers will benefit from SB 1479 (Thank you Senator Pan!) because:
- All children – regardless of their socioeconomic or racial background – deserve to learn in a safe environment yet all schools don’t have equal funding or access to comprehensive Covid testing plans.
- The current patchwork of testing regimens throughout California schools has shown that schools without a plan suffer while those with plans are prepared for what the pandemic may bring. In a study of over 200 CA schools, the Public Health Institute found that on-site Covid testing contributes to the safety of in-person learning and builds confidence in school safety for parents and staff.
- Federal Covid funding has lapsed due to Congressional inaction.
With the onset of new variants and the federal government’s inability to provide adequate resources and direction, California needed to step up to the plate. One of our takeaways from the last two years working closely with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to prevent the destructive cycle of school openings and closures was that California couldn’t afford to lose the testing infrastructure we built up during the pandemic. Through the 2021-2022 school year, CDPH supported schools by implementing a robust testing program to reduce community transmission in schools. Over 800 school districts across the State of California were eligible to receive support from the state to implement testing.
That infrastructure has trained people in thousands of schools across the state, carried out nearly 6 million in-school COVID tests of children and education workers since January 2021, distributed over 21 million home rapid tests, and detected nearly 270 thousand COVID-19 cases.
SB 1479: What it Does and Doesn’t Do
Thankfully, on September 29th, 2022, the Governor validated the fundamental importance of California’s statewide Covid testing program in keeping our schools open and safe these past two years by signing SB 1479. This new law simply requires local educational agencies to create and implement COVID-19 testing plans that are consistent with CDPH guidelines. It also requires CDPH to continue to support school testing infrastructure and training to the extent allocated resources permit. Each Local Education Agency (LEA), after consulting with its Local Health Jurisdiction (LHJ), must create a covid testing plan or adopt the CDPH framework for testing, and, each LEA must publish its plan on its website. The law goes into effect January 1, 2023, and it won’t change much for any district that has already developed, or is developing, a COVID-19 testing plan.
Now, school districts can be better prepared for inevitable surges of COVID-19 and should be equipped with adequate testing resources and minimum standards (assuming significant budget requests are met to continue funding California’s existing COVID-19 testing task force and expand to test preschool, on-site after school programs, and childcare centers). In short, if you don’t have a plan, it’s time to make one. If you do, it’s not time to stop. COVID hasn’t finished with us yet.
How To Register for COVID-19 Testing at your School (let us help!)
The integration of testing in schools is new for many. Safely Opening Schools is here to help, and available for ongoing support and sharing best practices. Check out our one-stop-shop “Get Started” page and learn everything you need to know to keep your school open and safe!
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