California becomes first state to order teachers, school staff to get COVID vaccinated

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California on Wednesday became the first U.S. state to require that its teachers and other school staff be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19, a move Governor Gavin Newsom called “a responsible step” to ensure the safety of children.

The move comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide ban on mask mandates hit its second legal setback after a judge in Dallas County temporarily blocked it from being enforced amid a nationwide rise in coronavirus cases.

Abbott and fellow Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida have faced defiance over their statewide orders that prevent local officials from deciding whether to require that masks be worn.

Masks have become a divisive issue, often splitting the country along political lines, despite near universal agreement among health experts that they can limit the spread of the virus.

In Tennessee, over a hundred anti-mask protesters heckled masked people, including doctors and nurses, on Tuesday in Williamson County where the school board voted earlier to require masks for elementary students.

A video with nearly 2 million views on Twitter shows the crowd surrounding a masked man as he walked to his car. Protesters yelled: “We will find you” and “We know who you are. No more masks.”

The vaccination requirement in California schools follows similar orders that applied to state employees and healthcare workers.

“We think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open, and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself have for young children,” Newsom said at a briefing where he was flanked by state teachers’ union officials who support the move.

Spurred by the Delta variant, the country’s coronavirus cases have spiked to their highest levels in more than six months, according to a Reuters tally. New U.S. cases have increased more than five-fold over the past month with the seven-day average hitting 118,000 on Tuesday.

In response, the U.S. government and several states, along with some hospitals, universities and a growing number of private employers, have said they require employees to get inoculated. The White House said last week that almost 90% of U.S. educators and school staff are vaccinated.

New York City last week become the first major U.S. city to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination at restaurants, gyms and other businesses, starting next month.