Tony Tran receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the La Clinica de la Raza community vaccination site in Oakland on Jan. 4, 2022. Martin do Nascimento/CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – California is facing a COVID conundrum: Are its policies helping or hindering its efforts to emerge from the pandemic?

Take schools. As CalMatters’ Joe Hong and Elizabeth Aguilera report, state lawmakers are gearing up for a massive fight over controversial vaccine proposals — including one that would eliminate the personal belief exemption in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate and require all K-12 kids to get the shot by Jan. 1, 2023.

Yet a steady stream of campuses — already confronting rapidly declining enrollment — are delaying or eliminating their mandates to avoid forcing thousands of noncompliant students into distance learning or into different districts altogether.

  • On Wednesday, Sacramento City Unified became the latest district to postpone its Jan. 31 vaccination deadline — the result of 44% of eligible students failing to report at least partial inoculation.
  • Also Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board endorsed increasing pediatric vaccination but declared “it goes too far to require a vaccine that has not been fully approved” when there isn’t “clear evidence that current vaccination rates among students are resulting in significant numbers of hospitalizations or deaths.”

At the same time, many teachers and students say stricter protections are needed: The West Contra Costa teachers union is threatening to go on strike if the district doesn’t strengthen COVID safety measures by Friday, and a strike was averted this week in Oakland after the teachers union and district reached their 10th safety agreement of the pandemic.

Persistent worker shortages exacerbated by sickness, confusing quarantine and isolation rules, subpar working conditions, vaccine mandates and burnout have also sparked fierce debate over what constitutes effective COVID policy.

“Can we really do this if we don’t have the people?” Farrah McDaid Ting, a senior legislative representative with the California State Association of Counties, asked Manuela. “I think there could be a real limitation.”