COVID-19 staff testing, vaccination status. As we finally begin the 2021-22 school year and work through challenges related to fire danger, we wanted to take a moment to talk about where we stand as a county when it comes to the mandatory testing of unvaccinated school staff. It is important to remember that information like vaccination rates and positive tests fall under certain privacy laws. While our schools and communities are too small to share local data, we will be able to share countywide data in these areas. Be on the lookout for regular updates to be shared out through the Trinity County Office of Education website and Facebook page.
What does the new order require?
The new mandate (issued August 2021 by the California Department of Public Health – CDPH) requires all unvaccinated school staff to undergo weekly testing. In working with the CDPH and the California Department of Education, TCOE will be supporting all Trinity County school districts in weekly testing, using both antigen and PCR testing. School districts will be provided with a weekly appointment at their local sites for testing. All collected data will be directly reported to the state and the testing plan will be in full compliance by Oct. 15.
Who is required to test?
At this time, vaccines are not required of school staff. All unvaccinated staff are required to test weekly. This includes teachers, classroom aides, bus drivers, substitutes, cooks, and anyone else who may be employed by a school district. Staff will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks or more after they have received the second dose in a two-dose series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Staff who are not fully vaccinated, or who have not submitted documentation of such, will be considered unvaccinated. Having COVID-19 antibodies does not count as being a vaccinated person (for the purposes of this order).
While regular required school immunizations only allow for medical exemptions, as determined in Senate Bill 277 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, the latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate (announced on Oct. 1, 2021, which will require the vaccination of all staff and students, either by Jan. 1, 2022; July 1, 2022; or January 2023, whenever vaccines become fully approved for children), allows for medical as well as personal belief exemptions, according to Health and Safety Code Section 120338. However, the criteria for such an exemption was left undefined.
As we continue to navigate an ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 rules and regulations, we hope to provide regular updates and countywide data around schools, testing, and positive cases. It is our goal to have students in the classroom learning in the safest environment possible, and to extend that safety to the staff that teaches them, serves them food, drives the buses, or cleans their school. Our districts will not be able to teach students if the staff is sick.
We appreciate your support and patience in working through some of these hurdles in our small communities.