The Final Sprint: Nine Out of the Ten Largest California Counties Reach Newsom’s Benchmark to Reopen K-6 Schools

By Brandon Ristoff
February 17, 2021

CLICK HERE to see which benchmarks your county has passed this week.

Last week, we examined the different benchmarks that could be used to determine whether schools in California counties could be allowed to reopen. We’ve now updated this analysis and found that the vast majority of the state meets Gov. Newsom’s Safe Schools for All benchmark. Though most counties have met the Governor’s threshold, they’re unlikely to reopen anytime soon due to teachers unions’ unworkable demands, including requiring the vaccination of all teachers as a precondition of reopening. Meeting the reopening benchmarks, however, should make it even more clear to ordinary Californians that selfish teachers unions and the lack of leadership from Newsom and the California Legislature are the reasons why classrooms remain closed.

On Tuesday, February 16, California’s Department of Public Health released its updated Covid-19 numbers on its California Blueprint Data Chart. What is most notable is the number of counties that have gone under the 25 adjusted cases per 100,000 people benchmark instituted by Newsom’s Safe Schools for All plan. Now, 47 out of California’s 58 counties have achieved the necessary threshold for school reopening. The population of these counties makes up 83% of California’s population.

Nine out of the ten largest counties in California have passed this threshold, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Fresno. Riverside is just above the threshold and may be under it as early as next week.

The updated positivity numbers from the CDC also increased the number of counties that fell below Governor Andrew Cuomo’s benchmark of 9% positivity over a seven-day period. At least 35 counties have hit Cuomo’s benchmark, amounting to at least 87% of California’s population. 

San Francisco’s recent union deal allows schools to reopen only if they reach the red tier and school staff members can receive the vaccine. They can reopen in the orange tier if the vaccine is not available for school staff.  If we applied that benchmark to the rest of California, it may be weeks or months before most of California’s counties get out of the purple tier and reopen schools. Only six counties have reached the red tier or lower and only three counties are in the orange tier.

While the teachers unions will likely continue to move the reopening goalposts, and more work needs to be done by the governor, the legislature, and the school districts, it is clear now that the school reopening process can begin. 

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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.

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