Coronavirus vaccine verification is becoming increasingly common across Orange County as state employees, health care workers and school staff have to either prove they’re fully vaccinated or undergo a weekly testing regiment.
Starting today, people looking to visit local hospitals and other health care settings — like retirement homes — will also have to prove they’re fully vaccinated or tested negative for the virus in the past 72 hours, according to a mandate from state Health Officer Tomás Aragón
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Gov. Gavin Newsom said vaccine rates across the state could start going up now that school staff — teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers — have to get vaccinated or face weekly testing.
“We think this will do exactly what it’s intended to do and that is to encourage people to get vaccinated,” Newsom said at a Wednesday news conference.
He’s “confident that we’ll see compliance” with the new school mandate.
It’s still unclear who’s going to pay for the testing mandates at schools.
Many schools throughout Orange County are reopening their classrooms and kicking off the Fall semester, with scores of others not far behind.
It also comes as positivity rates have dramatically increased since the June 15 statewide reopening, when most pandemic restrictions were dropped and OC was straddling a roughly 1% positivity rate.
The rate is now 7.9%, according to state data.
At a separate Wednesday news conference, OC Deputy Health Officer, Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, said while some metrics have improved, cases are “still rising.”
She also noted hospitalizations have increased, which usually happens two weeks after case surges.
As of Wednesday, 495 people were hospitalized, including 96 in intensive care units, according to county Health Care Agency data.
That’s the highest number of people hospitalized since late February, according to state data.
Although the Winter wave was ending at that time and positivity rates were steadily decreasing.
While vaccine and testing mandates have hit hospitals, the state workforce and school employees, the City of Los Angeles is moving to require proof of vaccination for people wanting to go to bars, gyms, restaurants and various retailers.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles City Council members directed city attorneys to draft an ordinance that will be voted on down the road, according to the LA Times.
As schools reopen and children head back to classrooms — with universal mask mandates — some parents and local school board members are railing against the masks.
“We need to return to having masks be optional. Let’s be clear, I have no responsibility to protect you at all — none. And I don’t want to protect you, that’s not my job,” said Ocean View School District trustee Norm Westwell during the Tuesday board meeting.
He also said, “Masking children is child abuse. And if you don’t see that, I feel sorry for you.”
His colleagues pushed back on him.
“I’ve not heard a kid say to me the mask feels like it’s abusing me,” board member Patricia Singer said. “I hear a lot from adults about the mask.”
There was also a Monday protest against masks and vaccines in front of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
The OC Board of Education is moving to sue Newsom over the mask mandate in schools.
Supervisor Katrina Foley called the board’s lawsuit “political theater.”
“I doubt that this lawsuit will go anywhere. Even the [Orange County] Superior Court is requiring masks. This is a very common sense, non intrusive, least restrictive way to protect the health of the children. I think it’s just a waste of people’s time,” Foley said at the Wednesday news conference.
State officials apparently don’t have any contingency plans for schools if classrooms turn into virus hot spots.
Some parents in the county have been pushing back against statewide school mask mandates with parent groups like “Let Them Breathe” holding rallies at school districts calling masks to be optional.
The group is slated to protest the mask mandates at Garden Grove Unified School District offices Friday afternoon.
The Orange County Department of Education — which has consistently been at odds with the Board of Education over pandemic protocols — will follow the mask mandate.
Chrstine Olmstead, superintendent of the department of education, said masks aren’t causing students any issues.
“When we speak with CHOC hospital and other pediatricians, they support the mask wearing for children and don’t see it as a barrier for them,” Olmstead said at the Wednesday news conference.
She said education officials didn’t run into any health problems surrounding masks last school year.
“Most of our schools were in in-person instruction and students wore masks without problems.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio