California Accounts for 12% of U.S. Students, but Only 1% of Covid School Closures

The state has done remarkably well limiting outbreaks, even before its student vaccine mandate has been put into place.,

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A mother and daughter attended a parent meeting at Arleta Senior High School in Los Angeles.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The signs at scattered rallies across California on Monday were familiar to anyone who has followed the state’s yearslong childhood vaccine wars.

“Our kids are not lab rats.” “My body, my choice.” “Coercion is not consent.”

California has mandated that all schoolchildren must eventually get Covid-19 vaccines, the first and only state to do so. In protest, some parents pulled their children from school on Monday and took to the streets in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Vacaville, Sacramento and more.

At the heart of this fight is a complicated truth: California’s new student vaccination requirements haven’t yet begun, but the state already has a remarkably low number of outbreaks at schools.

Of the 2,321 nationwide school closures since August because of Covid-19, about 1 percent have been in California — even though the state accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s K-12 students, according to data from Burbio, a technology company that monitors outbreaks.

So some parents may be wondering: If masking, testing and other prevention strategies are working so well, why is the state adding an immunization requirement?

Simply stated, vaccines are the best tool for sparing people from coronavirus infections. You’re probably familiar with these numbers by now, but the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines prevented roughly 95 percent of symptomatic illnesses in clinical trials.

And while experts say California’s classroom safety measures are highly effective, the fall semester has also coincided with a precipitous drop in coronavirus spread statewide. In other words, more protection may be needed if cases begin to climb again.

Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of California’s Board of Education, told me she saw vaccines as the next stage of the state’s pandemic response. Gov. Gavin Newsom has often been criticized for introducing restrictions, such as in July when he mandated universal masking in schools — only for the move to be later endorsed by federal officials.

“The science works, if you are very, very persistent and purposeful about implementing it,” Darling-Hammond told me. “I think there’s a human tendency to say — as soon as things look good — ‘OK, we can take our foot off the gas.’ We can’t.”

Darling-Hammond said the state needed to be prepared for the emergence of more variants. Vaccinating children will not only confer them protection from infection, but also limit virus spread that can lead to new mutations.

Statewide, 71 percent of Californians 12 and over are fully immunized, one of the highest rates in the nation, according to a tracker by The New York Times. The percentage is lower for the youngest age group eligible for vaccines, those between 12 and 17, at around 57 percent.

But there’s a lot of variation across the state, and school outbreaks have typically hit places where coverage is low, Darling-Hammond told me.

Counties where multiple schools have closed this fall include Kern (where 43 percent of people 12 and over are fully vaccinated), Tehama (41 percent) and Lassen (32 percent).

There aren’t uniform guidelines across the state for when a school must shut down in response to an outbreak, so the closure numbers aren’t a perfect measure of how many students and teachers are falling sick. Still, they provide a snapshot of where and how often big outbreaks are overwhelming districts.

Statewide, the student vaccine requirement isn’t expected to take effect until July — first for seventh grade and up, followed by kindergarten through sixth grade — and only after the vaccines get full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for those age groups. (Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received full F.D.A. approval — and that’s only for people 16 and older.)

For other childhood vaccines, California barred parents in 2016 from citing their religious views to get out of vaccinating their children, after the number of unvaccinated students crept dangerously high.

But for the Covid-19 vaccine, officials say, parents will be allowed to opt out if they feel it conflicts with their personal beliefs.

For more:

See cases and vaccinations in your county.

Despite a vaccination mandate, there are several state agencies where less than half the staff is vaccinated, Fox40 reports.

The F.D.A. is planning to allow Americans to receive a different Covid-19 booster vaccine than the one they initially received.

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The bill that created the state’s reparations task force was written by Shirley Weber, now California’s secretary of state.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

The rest of the news

Reparations task force: Members of a statewide task force studying reparations for Black residents are undecided on who should qualify, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

A surfing icon: Tom Morey, the inventor of the Boogie Board, died at age 86, NPR reports.

#MeToo: Activists say that an independent panel set up to investigate workplace misconduct in the State Capitol isn’t independent enough, The Sacramento Bee reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

A curious collection: The magician Ricky Jay left behind more than 10,000 rare books, posters and ephemera in his Beverly Hills home after his death. What was his wife to do with it all?

Mark Ridley-Thomas: After being indicted on federal bribery charges, Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles city councilman, said he would step back from participating on the Council but would not resign, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Vice president’s visit: Vice President Kamala Harris visited Lake Mead, which has reached some of the lowest water levels in its history, to pitch the Biden administration’s plans to address climate change, The Los Angeles Times reports.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

House race: Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Democrat, announced he was running to represent the 21st Congressional District in the Central Valley, a race that could become one of the most competitive in the country, The Associated Press reports.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Weather warning: Gusty winds, rain and snow are expected to begin on Tuesday night in the Lake Tahoe area, as well as parts of Lassen, Plumas and Sierra Counties.

Scandal-plagued school board: San Francisco will hold a special recall election for three members on the city’s Board of Education, The Associated Press reports.

What you get

Across California, $2.7 million homes.

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Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

What we’re eating

This Tuscan farro soup is simple yet amazing.

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Credit…Stella Kalinina

Where we’re traveling

The San Pedro Community Gardens are an oasis with deep immigrant roots.

What we’re recommending

What’s on TV this week.

Tell us

I’m headed to San Diego soon to do some reporting. What should I write about?

Email me suggestions at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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Credit…Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

For years, the contributions of Chinese immigrants to the creation of Yosemite National Park went unrecognized.

Toiling in snowy conditions in the late 1800s, Chinese workers helped build the steep and winding roads that lead into the park. One Chinese immigrant worked as head chef of the grand Wawona Hotel for half a century. Others were hired as gardeners and laundry workers at hotels, The Fresno Bee reports.

This month, Yosemite officials formally honored these Chinese workers with the unveiling of a restored 1917 Chinese laundry building, where visitors can learn more about this lost history.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: End of a well-known series (3 letters).

Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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