On Friday, July 17th, at noon PDT, Governor Gavin Newsom held a press briefing to provide COVID-19 guidance for schools and provide an update on the state’s response to the pandemic.
Using a slide deck, Newsom opened by stating that learning is non-negotiable; schools must provide meaningful instruction during the pandemic whether they are physically open or not; and that we all prefer in-class learning, but only if it can be done safely.
Today, he announced that all K-12 public and private schools in counties on the state’s monitoring list will be required to close for in-class instruction and must meet precise criteria to reopen. Specifically, schools in counties on the list must stay closed until they are off the list for 14 consecutive days. Schools that do not meet this requirement must begin the school year distance learning. There is a single exception. A waiver of this criteria may be granted by the local health officer for elementary schools to open for in-person instruction. A waiver may only be granted if one is requested by the superintendent (or equivalent for charter or private schools), in consultation with labor, parent, and community organizations.
Additionally, the guidance makes masks mandatory for students in 3rd grade and up, as well as for all school staff. Students in 2nd grade and below are only encouraged to wear masks or face shields. Staff must maintain 6 feet between each other and with students. Students should maintain 6 feet of distance when possible. There will also be a requirement to test staff regularly and the contact tracing workforce will prioritize schools. Finally, Newsom outlined new statewide requirements for rigorous distance learning, including access to devices and connectivity for all kids; daily live interaction with teachers and other students. In the budget, Newsom said $5.3 billion was set aside to prioritize equity. That money will help finance education resources for distance learning.
Newsom also went over the following question: “When should in-person learning close?” He said schools should consult with a public health officer first, a classroom cohort goes home when there is a confirmed case; a school goes home when multiple cohorts have cases or more than 5 percent of the school is positive; a district goes home if 23 percent of their schools are closed within a 14-day period.
More on schools – the Governor conveyed he wants to allow schools in counties on the watch list to be able to reopen, in consultation with public health officers, when conditions improve. He also noted school staff is at risk too— "We cannot deny the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of adults who are responsible for taking care of and educating our kids, and their health has to be considered as well."
The California Department of Public Health's new guidance for the safe re-opening of in-person learning at schools can be found here: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-schools.pdf.
Also, from the COVID-19.ca.gov website, more about the requirements for safe in-person learning at schools can be found here: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/Schools%20Reopening%20Recommendations.pdf.
As he does regularly, Newsom addressed the latest COVID-19 numbers, including the hospitalization and intensive care unit (ICU) patient figures. There are 6,777 positive COVID-19 hospital patients. Of those patients, 1,897 are in the ICU. Over 14 days, there has been a 22 percent hospitalization increase, representing 9.2 percent of all available hospital beds statewide. Further, he said, the positivity rate is important to consider. The 14-day positivity average is over 7.4 percent; the 7-day positivity rate is actually lower at 7.1 percent.
Currently, there are 32 counties on the state’s monitoring list. The list can be found here: https://covid19.ca.gov/roadmap-counties/.
In closing, Newsom stated, “None of us want to see education virtualized. At least, I don't. I believe profoundly in the power of individuals and the cohort and the connectedness of being with others and developing intellectually and emotionally, and maturing, that's difficult to do online.” He said our individual acts can help get kids back in school, while again imploring Californians once more to wear a face covering, practice physical distancing, wash your hands, and minimize mixing.
During the Q&A portion of the briefing, Newsom was asked about the impact students staying home would have on working parents and the economy. In response, he said the increasing number of cases is a concern and that is why we have the new guidance. However, he said his Administration will be looking to offer additional supports for parents, but did not provide specifics.
Newsom was also asked about Monday’s press briefing when he seemed to suggest updated statewide action on schools was not needed. In response, he said that impression was incorrect. "Forgive me for leaving you with that impression on Monday, certainly was not my intention, quite the contrary."
He was also asked if more school districts would be in the position to offer in-person instruction had the state moved more slowly through its reopening phase. Newsom said he wasn't able to "hypothesize" on that. "No shoulda, woulda, coulda," he said.
Regarding devices for students—Newsom said the state was able to get over 70,000 laptops and Chromebooks. Additionally, the CPUC has been doing more targeted mapping of areas that don't have robust connectivity. Specifically, he also noted, “My wife has been working overtime to get devices donated and to have Wi-Fi hotspots and connectivity in public schools. California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has also been leading in this space. Google really led in this space also— we advanced 100,000 hotspots them, Microsoft, Amazon, and Verizon.”
Newsom was also asked about students with special needs. In response, President of the State Board of Education Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond said, “We’re very concerned about meeting the needs of the full range of students. All the districts have been aware that they need capacity for distance learning and begin to adapt for students with special needs." She said when schools first closed, they thought it would be for two weeks, therefore the state was not as prepared as it needed to be. However, now, the state is much better positioned going into this semester to handle the needs of kids than we were in spring."
When asked about Trump’s statements regarding the need to open schools, Newsom reiterated an earlier portion of his presentation that highlighted “California’s Bottom Line” as the following: “Students, teachers, staff, and parents prefer in-classroom instruction – but only if it can be done safely. Safety is determined by local health data.”
The briefing concluded approximately at 1:05 PM PDT.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has announced the most recent statistics on COVID-19. There are now a total of 356,178 (+2.5 percent) confirmed positive cases and 7,435 (+1.6 percent) deaths in California. As of July 15th, there have been 5,915,508 tests conducted in California and reported to the California Department of Public Health. This represents an increase of 122,232 tests over the prior 24-hour reporting period. More information regarding the most recent COVID-19 statistics can be found here.
Yesterday, July 16th, Newsom announced the availability of $600 million in funding for Homekey, the next phase in the state’s response protecting Californians experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19. A copy of the Governor’s office news release can be found here.
Also on July 16th, Cal/OSHA issued a news release urging all employers in California to carefully review and follow the state's COVID-19 workplace safety and health guidance to ensure their workers are protected from the virus. A copy of the Cal/OSHA news release can be found here.
On July 14th, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced new plans for COVID-19 testing in California, including updated testing guidance, new requirements for health plans to cover testing, and the new co-chairs of the state's COVID-19 Testing Task Force. A copy of the CDPH news release can be found here.
The https://www.covid19.ca.gov/ website is being updated continuously. A complete list of the state’s ongoing COVID-19 response efforts can be found here.
McHugh Koepke & Associates
1121 L Street, Suite 103
Sacramento, CA 95814