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Before anyone gets too excited about schools supposedly reopening on April 1, that’s unlikely to happen in much of California under the terms of the deal that Gov. Gavin Newsom just worked out with the Legislature.
The agreement announced Monday to offer schools $2 billion in incentives to reopen at least their K-2 classrooms by April 1 is less meaningful than the governor’s recent turnaround on vaccines for teachers. The state is now setting aside a hefty share of the doses to meet the demands of teachers’ unions.
But even that’s not enough to meet April 1 deadlines for most schools. The new, one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be in short supply in the near future, leaving teachers to depend on the two other vaccines, which require two doses and take five to six weeks to fully protect a person. That pushes school reopenings at least to mid-April.
Based on what the studies show, we shouldn't need to wait that long. A single dose of the two vaccines that have been used so far provides about 85% protection a couple of weeks after the first shot — which is about the same protection provided by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That’s a very high level, though a little bit short of the 95% or so reached after two doses.
It’s hard to imagine why state, district and union officials couldn’t have put their heads together and agreed on a science-based approach. We're sacrificing weeks of in-person schooling in order for teachers to obtain a little extra protection in schools, many that have already been operating safely without vaccines. The Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco school districts have all declared that they will not open until teachers are fully vaccinated; their unions demanded that much.
(Also, L.A. Unified teachers will obtain most of the vaccines through access codes, a potentially leaky system that could enable unqualified people to jump the line. The state should simply provide doses directly to the district to inoculate its staff.)
In ways, this is a true April Fool’s deal for the public; it sounds like a rush to reopen schools, but because teachers and other staff don’t receive the $2 billion, they’re unlikely to budge on the demand for full vaccination before returning to the classroom. April 1 isn’t even a drop-dead date for receiving state incentives, which will remain available in reduced form after that. By the time the kids get their seat assignments, the school year will be effectively over.
Schools needed a deal months ago that set aside vaccinations for teachers — with one dose considered sufficient to get started, and a second dose promised when needed — and that required incremental reopening of schools where it was safe. By now, for primary-school students, that’s most of California. Instead, the governor, Legislature and most school districts essentially left it to the unions to decide. The results sadly show where education lies in the state’s priorities.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.