Senator Dr. Richard Pan Introduces COVID-19 Testing Legislation to Keep Schools Open and Safe

Bill would provide testing resources and require testing plan for each school

February 22, 2022

SACRAMENTO – Today, State Senator Dr. Richard Pan introduced SB 1479, which would require every California school to develop a COVID-19 testing plan and would authorize additional resources to implement school testing plans, as a part of a broader legislative package to keep schools open and safe and protect public health.

SB 1479 is the latest bill from Senator Pan and the Legislative Vaccine Work Group to address the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 1479 would require the California Department of Public Health to work with school districts to develop a testing plan for each California school, including preschools, childcare centers and after school programs. The bill, contingent on a state or federal appropriation, also helps ensure that adequate resources are made available for school districts to implement their COVID-19 testing plans.

SB 1479 was announced in coordination with youth leaders who have worked closely with the Vaccine Work Group to develop public health policies that keep schools open and safe. Youth leaders attending K-12 schools have been vocal about the need to keep schools open and safe, including a robust, responsive, and flexible testing infrastructure. Organizations such as Teens for Vaccines, Generation Up, and ProtectUS have amplified youth voices and viewpoints during the pandemic.

To interview any of the people quoted in this release, contact Eddie Kirby at edwin.kirby@sen.ca.gov.

Dr. Richard Pan, state senator and pediatrician said, “COVID testing plans are essential to parents and schools and child care sites being confident in staying open and keeping children safe from COVID. Funded school testing plans provide vital information to protect students and teachers through COVID variants and surges.”

Ana Vasudeo, School Board Director, Berkeley Unified School District said, “As a school board director, I applaud Dr. Pan’s effort to ensure a statewide COVID-19 school testing standard. During this pandemic, testing for COVID-19 in my district was essential to keeping our schools open. After two years, we have learned how to implement public health measures to keep students and education workers safe. The pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis in education and the path to academic & socio-emotional recovery for our students is tied to our continued COVID-19 mitigation efforts, which include making a plan to test for COVID-19 and providing schools with resources necessary for staying open. We saw this first-hand with the 6 million at-home tests that were distributed to schools during the recent Omicron surge. We have the tools to protect students, but if we don’t use them, we needlessly put the health and safety of California’s students at risk.”

Paula Villescaz, School Board Member, San Juan Unified School District said, “Having school testing plans and resources is a key tool to maintaining in-person instruction safely and will curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. In the San Juan Unified School District, site-based testing for students and staff has been an important part of a mitigation strategy that has helped us keep our community safe. I am thankful to Dr. Pan and the Legislative Vaccine Work Group for marshalling the resources to support open and safe schools for our kids and staff during this pandemic.”

Nuriel C, an Oakland Unified School District student said, “I bore witness to inaccessible testing lines, lacking PPE, and students missing school for weeks after getting sick. As a student organizer for the COVID-19 sickouts, I helped create a petition that demanded weekly COVID-19 testing, better masks, and expanded outdoor eating options. Only after gathering over 1,200 student signatures, have all of our demands been met. COVID-19 testing is crucial to keeping schools open and safe. Students want to come to school and know that we will not get our friends and family sick.”

Saanvi Arora, GENup Director of Strategic Partnerships said, “Current testing protocols do not require a statewide minimum, disproportionately affecting students in districts without a testing plan. A statewide response that equips schools with adequate testing resources and minimum standards enables schools to stay open and safe rather than forcing students to bear the brunt of this public health crisis. As a youth-led organization amplifying the voices of students across the state, GENup strongly supports a statewide testing protocol that ensures that children, regardless of their socioeconomic or racial background, learn in a safe environment and feel comfortable acquiring the in-person education that they deserve.”

Joshua O., ProtectUS Public Health Student Ambassador said, “We at ProtectUS thank Dr. Pan and the Vaccine Work Group for introducing this important measure. While many school districts have robust testing programs, too many do not. Because of different ideological responses to COVID-19, even well-resourced school districts that have the means to provide regular testing, fail to do so. We need a statewide standard that provides consistency throughout California schools. SB 1479 would help protect all of us.

Ani Chaglasian, a Teens for Vaccines Ambassador said, “Teens for Vaccines understands that vaccines are the cornerstone of the public health response, however, we know that there are students out there who are not able to get vaccinated. Testing continues to be a vital tool to stay safe from the virus. Many students are high risk or have high risk family members at home. Testing makes these students feel comfortable and protected at school and keeps their families safe.”

Michael L., a Redondo Beach Unified School District student, said, “Students feel alone on this issue. School administrators and parents dismiss our fears and concerns; they bully us for using our voice. My high school walked out to protest lenient protocols, but the adults in the room were more concerned about us speaking up than listening to what we had to say. I am thankful the Vaccine Work Group is listening.

On January 19, Dr. Pan and six other legislators announced the formation of a legislative Vaccine Work Group to facilitate coordinated action to promote vaccines and science-based public health policy. Members of the Vaccine Work Group have introduced six earlier bills to help combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and protect public health: SB 866, the Teens Choose Vaccines Act; SB 871, the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act; SB 1018, establishing transparency for online platforms; AB 1797, to modernize California’s Immunization Registry; AB 1993, to keep workplaces open and safe; and, AB 2098, establishing accountability for licensed medical professionals spreading disinformation.

 

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