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Last Updated on February 24, 2022 by BVN

Breanna Reeves |

On Feb. 22 Senator Dr. Richard Pan introduced a new bill that would require all California schools to develop a COVID-19 testing plan.

Senate Bill 1479 would require each school district, county office of education and charter school to develop a testing plan that will detail a simple way for parents and local educational institutions to report testing data to the California Department of Health. The bill will also seek to approve additional resources to roll out testing plans.

“COVID testing plans are essential to parents and schools and child care sites being confident in staying open and keeping children safe from COVID,” said Pan in a statement. “Funded school testing plans provide vital information to protect students and teachers through COVID variants and surges.”

School districts throughout the state have diverse plans regarding COVID-19 testing requirements. For example the Los Angeles Unified School District requires that all students and employees who participate in in-person instruction get tested weekly, regardless of vaccination status. The district provides free testing for all students and employees, and requires both to have proof of a negative COVID test to come to school.

COVID-19 testing requirements vary throughout school districts across the state (Image via Unsplash).

Riverside Unified School District, on the other hand, currently does not require students to be tested in order to attend school, but the district encourages parents to “self-screen” before taking children to class. The district offers testing at four school sites and also has test kits available for students identified as being exposed.

San Bernardino City Unified School District is another example of a local school district that does not require students to be tested in order to return to school, but recommends that students with symptoms stay home. The district also has several sites for COVID-19 testing throughout the city, open to students.

SB 1479 would set a testing standard for schools across the state that will aim to keep children safe while remaining in school. According to data from the California Department of Public Health, 30.2% of children aged five to 11 are fully vaccinated and 65% of adolescents aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccination rates for Black youth are lowest among all racial/ ethnic groups in California (Graphic by Breanna Reeves).

Through a collaboration among the Children’s Partnership, the California Black Health Network, California Black Women’s Health Project and Black Women for Wellness, the collective produced a fact sheet about existing health disparities among children in California.

The data noted that Black children have the lowest vaccination rates across ethnic/ racial groups, with 12% of Black children aged five to 11 being vaccinated and 44% of Black youth aged 12-17 vaccinated, compared to 24% and 66% of all youth in those age ranges. 

State-wide and local vaccine awareness campaigns continue to focus their efforts on increasing vaccination rates in communities of color as issues of lack of access to vaccines, treatments and tests persist.

Newsom introduces SMARTER Plan

Senator Pan’s new bill comes on the heels of Governor Gavin Newsom introducing his new SMARTER Plan on Feb. 17, an acronym that stands for shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education and Rx treatments.

“Building on proven tools – rooted in science and data – that have been honed over the past two years, we’re keeping our guard up with a focus on continued readiness, awareness and flexibility to adapt to the evolving pandemic,” said Newsom in a statement about the plan.

As California begins to transition from a pandemic to endemic (where COVID-19 exists at a manageable case rate), the state has slowly started to relax requirements such as no longer requiring vaccinated people to wear masks indoors, citing improvements in COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations. The California Department of Health still requires masks to be worn on public transit, nursing homes, congregate settings and in schools. Indoor mask requirements are still in place for unvaccinated people. 

The governor’s new plan aims to address the next phase of California’s COVID-19 response by using different strategies based on science and lessons from the past two years to move forward. The SMARTER plan identifies specific goals such as administering 200,000 vaccines per day in addition to existing pharmacy and provider infrastructure, maintaining a stockpile of 75 million “high quality” masks and expanding by 25% school-based vaccination sites supported by the state. 

“As we enter this next phase, it is important for us not to forget that COVID-19 disproportionately affected our low-income, Latino, Black, Native American and Pacific Islander communities, individuals in rural parts of the state, as well as workers in high risk settings,” the plan detailed.

“It will be equally important for us not to lose sight of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our older and disabled Californians. We must accelerate change to address these longstanding inequities.”

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.