Every California school would be required to develop COVID testing plans under proposal

The Associated Press

Proposed legislation in California would require all K-12 public schools to develop COVID-19 testing plans for students and staff and the funding for schools to do it, Sen. Richard Pan said in announcing it Tuesday.

“It’s really important that schools know what’s going on in their school sites when it comes to COVID,” said Pan, a pediatrician. “COVID testing allows schools to identify positive cases and then quarantine those who are sick, helping to reduce the spread of the virus.”

The legislation would also apply to pre-schools, child care centers and afterschool programs.

It would require the California Department of Public Health to work with school districts to develop a testing plan. The bill does not specify the frequency of testing or if it should apply to all students and staff or just the unvaccinated, leaving those decisions to each school district.

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

A second-grade student is give a at-home COVID-19 test at H.W. Harkness Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 11, 2022. New California legislation would require all K-12 public schools to develop COVID-19 testing plans for students and staff and provide the funding needed to carry it out.

Pan said the proposed funding for would be determined at a later date based on how much the state and federal governments have already dispensed for school testing and other data being collected.

Under current guidance from the California Department of Public Health, school districts are encouraged but not required to conduct regular COVID-19 testing to catch infections early and reduce the spread of the virus.

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The state offers funding for testing, but many districts have said they don’t have enough staff to carry out extensive testing programs.

With the current omicron wave subsiding, California health officials say they will reassess the need for a school mask mandate on Feb. 28, based on factors that include vaccination rates among children and hospital capacity. All students and staff are currently required to wear face coverings indoors.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in October announced the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren. But it likely won’t take effect until this summer and allows exemptions for medical reasons and personal beliefs.

Pan has proposed legislation that would eliminate the personal belief exemption in the school-based COVID-19 vaccine requirement, similar to a 2015 law that eliminated the personal-belief exemption for all other childhood vaccinations the state requires for schoolchildren.