California school districts and childcare centers could be required to develop a COVID-19 testing plan under a new proposal introduced this week.
Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, unveiled new legislation on Tuesday that would require K-12 schools, pre-schools, childcare centers and after-school programs to create a COVID-19 testing plan. The bill would also ensure that resources and funds are available for schools to implement their testing plans.
Pan said that his legislation would help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools by identifying positive cases and quarantining students quickly, which he says will allow schools to remain open and safe for students.
“Helping protect vulnerable students and staff by reducing exposure to COVID is essential to be able to keep our schools open,” Pan said during a press conference Tuesday. “Without a testing plan, schools risk high numbers of teachers becoming positive and having to close school because of staffing shortages, as well as, of course, students not attending school because of fears of parents.”
Pan’s bill does not dictate how often students would have to be tested or how they are tested – whether it’s with a PCR or rapid test. The bill simply requires schools to develop some form of testing plan.
If the bill is passed, Pan said the California Department of Public Health will provide guidance to schools about what their plans should include and how they should be implemented. The law would also require schools to report information on its COVID-19 testing program to CDPH. The bill appears to exclude private schools.
Pan’s office did not have an estimate Tuesday on how much funding would be needed to provide testing resources for schools, noting that they are still collecting information on how much the state has dispensed for school testing from existing federal and state funds. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allows federal funds to be spent on COVID-19 testing at schools.
Though schools are not currently under a statewide requirement to test students throughout the pandemic, several school districts across the state implemented testing programs.
Berkeley Unified School District was one of the first districts in the state to implement regular COVID-19 screening last year. During the omicron surge, the district provided at-home tests before winter break and set up twice weekly screening, which educators say allowed them to keep their doors open when other neighboring school districts closed.
“After two years of this pandemic, we’ve learned how to keep students and staff safe, and COVID testing has played an important role in helping to keep as many students as possible in the classroom versus quarantined,” Berkeley Unified School District Board Director Ana Vasudeo said Tuesday. “We don’t know what’s coming next month, or we don’t know what’s coming throughout the next year. But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned, it’s that we need to be ready and that COVID-19 testing remains an important tool to protect students and educational workers.”
Pan’s bill is the latest to come out of a Legislative Vaccine Work Group, which has proposed several measures to increase vaccination rates and slow the spread of COVID-19. Thus far, the group has introduced multiple bills, including a proposal to require California workers to be fully vaccinated and a bill that would allow kids 12 and older to get the vaccine without parental consent.
This article was originally posted on California lawmakers could make schools create COVID-19 testing programs