Morning Report: How Vaccines and New Rules Impact School Reopenings

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Morning Report: How Vaccines and New Rules Impact School Reopenings

A teacher at Lafayette Elementary School works with students as San Diego Unified begins phase one of its reopening plan at elementary schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Public school leaders have demanded access to vaccines for employees in negotiations over school reopenings, but thus far they’ve been unwilling to broach the subject of mandating vaccinations.

Vaccinations are the avenue by which we can resume something resembling normal life, public health officials told our Ashly McGlone. But for now, spokespeople for the San Diego Unified School District and the local teachers union say it has not been necessary to discuss any vaccine mandate.

For now, vaccinations are voluntary for employees, said San Diego Unified spokeswoman Maureen Magee, but if vaccination rates are low once the vaccine is readily available for teachers, the superintendent would then refer the issue to the district physician and a panel of experts from UC San Diego to decide how to proceed. 

Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Education Association, told McGlone any mandate right now would be pointless, because the district couldn’t provide all the vaccines to supply a mandate even if it wanted to.

In December, though, Borden told KPBS the union would negotiate to keep teachers who declined a vaccine employed, and she this month signaled her support for keeping them optional during a hearing before a state Senate education hearing.

State Clarifies: No, Most Schools Can’t Pursue Expanded Reopenings

Amid ongoing debates about how or when schools should re-open, a simple question was left unanswered: Are schools even allowed to expand their re-opening? 

Most cannot, it turns out. The state issued new guidance this month that makes it clear, and because of it many schools will remain closed or will have re-openings delayed indefinitely, as McGlone writes in another new story.

Last year, county health officials had interpreted state rules inconsistently, leading to confusion even among school leaders and education officials.

But schools that had not reopened to an entire grade level while the county was in a lower tier of pandemic restrictions are barred from expanding their re-openings now, while the county is in an elevated tier of restrictions. Schools offering limited services to specific populations of students doesn’t count as open enough to qualify a district to consider potential re-opening expansions. 

Got all that? It’s not a straightforward standard, and it had confused local officials, but it’s now fairly simple. If San Diego Unified officials wanted to re-open campuses right now – and they do not – they would not be allowed.

Convention Center Will Stay a Shelter Through March

The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend the San Diego Convention Center shelter operation through March.

Extending the shelter the first three months of the year will cost an estimated $15.2 million the city plans to cover with sources including $5.3 million in unspent federal block grant funds and millions more in unspent or unallocated funds, including state grant monies.

From April through last week, city officials say the operation had temporarily housed 3,758 homeless San Diegans and helped 1,186 people and 43 families move into permanent or longer-term housing.

Keely Halsey, the city’s chief of homelessness strategies, and Lisa Jones, the Housing Commission’s executive vice president of strategic initiatives, said the city remains focused on connecting the hundreds who remain at the Convention Center with permanent homes or additional shelter options when the Convention Center operation shuts down.

Halsey said Golden Hall and the city’s two remaining tent shelters have been reconfigured to safely accommodate homeless San Diegans once the Convention Center shutters.

For now, the Convention Center has served as a safe haven for at least some homeless San Diegans amid the rain and windy weather in recent days.

The city reported there were 839 people staying at the Convention Center shelter on Tuesday morning, up from 761 on Friday. 

City officials said dozens have moved in over the past week, including 56 who moved from the street into shelter on Monday alone.

City spokeswoman Ashley Bailey said the city projects it will accommodate more than 200 additional homeless San Diegans this week.

In past years, the city has funded dozens of so-called inclement weather beds at Father Joe’s Village and PATH Connections Housing that the two providers offer when temperatures and rain forecasts meet certain benchmarks.

Bailey said COVID-19 and staffing issues tied to the pandemic forced the city to change its approach this year.

“In light of the extra safety measures COVID-19 requires, the city and Housing Commission are working to provide shelter to as many as possible daily while maintaining the health and safety of all staff and residents in shelters during this time,” Bailey wrote in an email to VOSD. “We continue to monitor the shelter population and staff capacity daily; using that information to open up all beds we can to safely serve more people.”

Elsewhere in the region, county spokesman Craig Sturak said the county backed 325 hotel room night stays with vouchers over the weekend as part of its inclement weather hotel room program for unincorporated areas throughout the county. 

He said the program would continue to be activated through Tuesday in the northern reaches of the county due to particularly cold temperatures.

Sturak said another 578 homeless San Diegans, including 458 people considered particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, were staying in hotel rooms the county has funded as part of its pandemic response as of Monday evening.

News Roundup

  • Assemblywoman Shirley Weber cleared an initial hurdle on her path to becoming California’s next secretary of state. An Assembly committee unanimously voted Tuesday to confirm her. She’ll still need approval of the full Assembly and Senate.
  • In a new op-ed, former Mission Beach Town Council president Gary Wonacott argues that Council President Jen Campbell’s proposed vacation rental regulations should be bolstered to include penalties for platforms that are behaving badly.
  • The Union-Tribune reports that a coalition of community groups is now calling for a transparent process to replace Superintendent Cindy Marten, who has been tapped to serve in the Biden administration.
  • County supervisors voted on Tuesday to reverse the county’s longtime stance against needle exchange programs and proceed with new strategies to aid intravenous drug users. (Union-Tribune)
  • Details on Metropolitan Transit System schedules and stops are now on the Lyft rideshare app, Fox 5 San Diego reports.
  • The county’s COVID-19 vaccine super station at Petco Park remained closed for a second day on Tuesday following Monday’s windy, rainy weather.
  • City News Service provided a rundown on the City Council’s Tuesday vote to extend an eviction moratorium for residential and commercial renters through June 30, or 60 days after the city’s emergency declaration is lifted – whichever comes first.

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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