SACRAMENTO—California could potentially pass legislation that will require all schools to create a COVID-19 testing plan to prevent case surges and school closures.
Senate Bill 1479, introduced by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), advanced to the state assembly Education Committee following a March 31 Health Committee meeting, where the bill passed in a 9–2 vote.
The proposed bill requires all schools, on-site afterschool programs, and childcare centers to create regular testing plans.
“Case surges in COVID threaten schools when they’re not prepared to test for COVID-19 and parents need to know if cases are spreading in their child’s school. … We need more safeguards to prevent future school closures and case surges,” Pan said while claiming the virus is one of the top ten causes of death for children.
Ana Vasudeo, the Director of the Safely Opening Schools program—a program to help test unvaccinated students and staff—urged the bill would keep students safe and in school.
“The most successful districts that have navigated the pandemic are the ones with robust COVID-19 mitigation measures,” Vasudeo said.
One speaker spoke in support of the bill while hundreds in opposition either appeared in person or called in.
A few opponents of the legislation argued that testing was unreliable and can create false positives that will send students home for days when they aren’t sick.
“Mass testing children will not benefit an asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic child [and] will inevitably result in learning loss,” a pediatric emergency physician said while citing other countries that have either halted school testing requirements or enforce testing for only those who have COVID-19 symptoms.
Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), who sits on the committee, urged her colleagues to stop their “obsession” with kids when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s to the point of absurdity now what we’re doing to these kids,” Melendez said. “You cannot keep removing them from the classroom environment … and expect them to be learning in a way that’s going to help them succeed and thrive and be able to pass their tests.”
While some questioned the cost of the program, the bill has not been analyzed by a fiscal committee.
A date for the legislation to be heard in the Education Committee hasn’t been set.