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Covid-19: Counties expand vaccine eligibility, Newsom battles Legislature on school proposal

A number of key developments emerged this week on vaccine and school reopening fronts throughout California and in the Bay Area, though the school issue is far from settled.  

After weeks of tough negotiations, state legislators Thursday finally agreed on a $6.5 billion proposal aimed at getting kids back into physical classrooms as early as spring. In Assembly Bill 86 and the identical Senate Bill 86, the funding initiative would not require schools to reopen but would require county health departments to offer vaccinations for teachers and staff who return to school campuses. The proposed school preparedness funding triples what Gov. Gavin Newsom initially offered. 

Under the “Safe and Open Schools” plan, all schools would be required to adopt a Covid-19 safety plan, agreed to by labor unions, by April 1. Schools receiving funding must:  

  • Offer in-person classes for all “vulnerable” students — English learners, foster children, homeless students and others without access to computers — by April 15
  • Reopen schools for TK-6 students when counties fall below case rates of 7 per 100,000 people 

Newsom, however, issued a critical statement Thursday, saying:

“While the Legislature’s proposal represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough. I look forward to building on the growing momentum to get our schools open and continuing discussions with the Legislature to get our kids back in school as safely and quickly as possible.”  

His tone hadn’t changed Friday when he hinted at a veto and balked at the proposed case rate goal, which most California counties have not yet reached. The plan he introduced in December allowed elementary schools in purple tier counties to reopen with a new case rate average of 25 or fewer per 100,000 people. Newsom’s plan also lacked vaccine requirements for teachers and staff, an aspect that drew wide criticism from labor unions.   

But the governor did say Friday that beginning March 1, the state will set aside 10 percent of first vaccine doses from each week’s shipment for teachers and school staff. 

In accordance with California’s Phase 1B, Tier 1 guidelines, several Bay Area counties this week announced immediate or soon-to-come expansions on vaccine eligibility. Others, like Alameda County, had already implemented the expanded guidelines.

Case and vaccine details for each of the nine counties are presented in the table below, with health department data available as of Friday afternoon. 

Nik Wojcik/SFBay Bay Area case and vaccine data per county as of Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.
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