California Ahead on COVID Fight at Schools, So Biden's New Strategy Won't Change Much Here

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President Joe Biden highlighted the importance of protecting children against COVID-19 in an address to the nation Thursday.

The President pleaded with parents to vaccinate their children who are eligible. For those children too young to get the vaccine, he said protection begins at home with everyone around the child vaccinated.

“I am very glad that he emphasized children in schools,” said Dr. Howard Taras, a UC San Diego professor and pediatrician who has been guiding school districts throughout the county on COVID-19 safety. “Children in school are the highest proportion of unvaccinated population because they are not eligible to receive the vaccine.”

President Joe Biden will call on schools to set up regular COVID-19 testing for students, teachers and staff, according to an administration official.

The President announced all of the nearly 300,000 educators in the federally funded Headstart program will be vaccinated. He called on governors to require vaccinations for all teachers and staff.

In California, teachers can opt out of getting a vaccine if they get tested.

“I don’t know if he wants to close that loophole,” Dr. Taras said. “He didn’t go into specifics, but the requirement for vaccination is there with that one safety valve for teachers who don’t get it.”

President Biden said his plan also takes on those governors in states who threaten to withhold salaries of school leaders who enforce protections. He said the federal government would pay the salaries.

“I promise, I will have your back,” said Biden.

California Governor Gavin Newson is not one of those governors, so the President’s comments do not apply.

“It doesn’t matter here in California,” said Taras. “But it’s nice whether something is occurring in another state or country. When you hear of some measure that is being taken to protect children’s safety, it’s always good news.”

Biden said within the next week, top retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Kroegers will start to sell rapid home tests kits at cost for the next three months. Taras said that makes people who are interested in testing, and testing at home, feel more empowered to do so because it’s not going to cost very much to get that done.

Taras said the President is on the right track when it comes to vaccinations, testing, masking and following safety protocols, all of which he said California has been encouraging all along.

“I think most of what he said today is addressed to other states. California was already on this track. Governor Newsom and his team have already taken on a lot of this in the guidance that comes through the California Public Health Department, so I don't think this will change the trajectory of what we’re doing in California."

In the South Bay, some parents say safety needs to be taken a step further.

NBC 7's Amber Frias spoke to a parent who is concerned about communication within her kids' school district.

"I don't see that any statements from the president to the higher governments are affecting how our districts are doing anything, parent Holly Watt said.

Watt has three children at Imperial Beach Charter School (IBCS). In August, the South Bay Union School District deported a total of 64 COVID-19 cases, including 11 at IBCS.

Watt claims he never heard about the cases from the school or district and instead had to rely on word making its way between families and parent groups.

"This is a very small community," Watt said. We all go to the beach together, we play here. Moms get together and they talk. 'So and so has COVID and they're in your classroom,' or, 'so and so's siblings have COVID.' I have not, in this past month and a half, I have not received any information, and I have three kids in this school. I have not received any information that someone has COVID," she said.

The South Bay Union School District said information about the district's operating procedures were sent to families before the school year started, including site-specific details sent by school principals.

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