From staff and wire reports
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that schools will be able to open in February if they are in a county that reaches what seems like an impossible goal — fewer than 28 new Covid cases per 100,000 residents.
According to the CDC, the seven-day average of new cases in San Mateo County is 306 per 100,000 and in Santa Clara County it’s 456 per 100,000.
So Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have a ways to go to reach the governor’s goal in order to reopen the schools.
Statewide, the average is 91.9 cases per 100,000. One of the counties in the best shape is Humboldt, 270 miles north of San Francisco, where there are 122 infections per 100,000. That’s still way above the 28-per-100,000 goal.
Newsom’s announcement was widely reported in the state’s news media without any mention of the 28-per-100,000 threshold.
On one hand, the teachers unions — who donated $1.3 million to his election campaign two years ago — will get their wish of continuing distance learning well past February and probably through the rest of the school year.
On the other hand, parents who have been clamoring to reopen schools will think Newsom’s announcement is good news until they learn about the 28-per-100,000 requirement.
The announcement included a promise that school districts will get $2 billion for testing of school employees and students, masks, employees to do contact tracing and vaccinations.
“Safety is key,” said Newsom, whose four daughters attend private schools. “Just reopening a school for in-person instruction on its own is not going to address the issue of safety. We have to focus on these mitigation steps, we have to focus on accountability.”
While previous Covid edicts from Newsom have been imposed without any public hearings or votes, this one will go to the Legislature and school unions for approval. It wasn’t immediately clear why unions would be given the right to veto a proposed state policy, though it illustrates their power in this situation.
California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd expressed appreciation to Newsom the state taking educators’ concerns into account when drafting the plan, but suggested it is not yet airtight.
“In all our conversations and letters sent, we have been calling for tougher safety standards, rigorous and consistent testing, data collection and transparency,” Boyd said in a statement.
“While these tenets are addressed in the proposal released Wednesday, there are many unanswered questions and the devil is always in the details, particularly as it relates to implementation and execution,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, said that schools can be opened safely, noting in an online briefing what he called an “almost counter-intuitive” finding that schools “seem to be doing better when it comes to the level of infection” than the community at large.
“If you really want to get society back to some form of normality, one of the first things you have to do is to get the children back in school,” Fauci said.
Many schools are already offering in-person classes, even with surging coronavirus cases, and there have been few outbreaks, said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education and an emeritus Stanford University education professor. More than 1,730 schools have received state waivers to reopen classrooms.
“Even in places of high rates of transmission, they are going to school safely,” she said.
Newsom said his recommendation was driven by increasing evidence that there are lower risks and increased benefits from in-person instruction particularly for the youngest students.