Murphy must do more: Eliminate the testing loophole in schools | Editorial

Published: Aug. 24, 2021

The man to watch in the fight against COVID, once again, is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

After requiring proof of vaccination to enter most venues, he took another bold action on Monday, announcing a strict new vaccine requirement for school staff, without the option of instead submitting to weekly testing. Bravo, sir.

Legally, this is easier now, with full FDA approval for the vaccine. The governor of Washington state says he will also offer no testing loophole. “We are well past the point where testing is enough to keep people safe. We’ve tried it. It has not been adequate for the task at hand,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “When you decide to get a vaccine, you’re protecting a kid out there who can’t get it.”

By comparison, the school vaccine mandate that our governor announced on Monday was weak tea. We’re glad that Phil Murphy is requiring masks and telling teachers they are expected to get the shot. But as cases explode and children are increasingly being hospitalized, why are we preserving a loophole that allows unvaccinated adults into schools?

“It’s an inferior scenario,” agreed Corey Basch, who chairs the public health department at William Paterson University. The super-transmissible Delta variant is incredibly hard to keep up with, she said: If you got tested on Friday, by Tuesday, you could already have contracted the virus and spread it to others in your home or neighborhood.

And if you’re going to be around children, many of whom are still unable to get the shot, getting vaccinated is “really not just a personal decision,” she said. “It’s a responsibility on a much larger level.”

The head of one of America’s two big teacher unions, Randi Weingarten, seemed to agree, calling it “a matter of personal conscience.” We’ve seen other union leaders get behind this idea, and Murphy says the vast majority of teachers are already vaccinated.

New York City and Washington state continue to allow medical and religious exemptions, which should be granted sparingly in a pandemic. Yet still, our largest teacher’s union, the NJEA, won’t say if it supports eliminating the testing loophole.

“I’m not going to speculate about a different requirement that has not been proposed or implemented in New Jersey,” an NJEA spokesman told us Monday. “As we have for many months now, we continue to urge everyone who is eligible and able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Yet the holdouts remain unconvinced. Just two weeks before school starts, hundreds of thousands of adolescents still haven’t gotten the shot even though they’ve been eligible for three months, Murphy’s own health commissioner reiterated on Monday. Now, to force them into a classroom with teachers who are unvaccinated would be beyond reckless.

One school in Atlanta tested 1,900 students the week before opening, required masks, social distancing and temperature checks, but by Thursday, 19 students and seven staffers had tested positive for COVID. Hundreds had to quarantine. Ask yourself: Why should kids and parents be subjected to this, while we pay for the regular testing of a teacher who refuses to do the responsible thing?

We also need to get vaccines into the older kids, who will mix with younger students who can’t get jabbed, in places like aftercare programs. We require other vaccines to attend school. Why not this one?

“Prior to today, the argument against mandating the COVID vaccine was, ‘We don’t want to be part of an experiment, because this is not regulated by the FDA.’ And today, that argument is no longer valid,” Basch noted.

Many parents are already being required to share their kids’ covid vaccination cards because they will be attending private schools this fall. Public school kids deserve the same protections. The best way to keep them safe is to ensure that all the adults and adolescents around them are vaccinated. If Murphy was waiting on the FDA’s final stamp of approval, well, now we have it. So end the testing loophole.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-25 03:23:00 -0700