By Cameron Macdonald

Citizen News Editor

The Sacramento County Grand Jury last week recommended that the county’s K-12 school districts require COVID vaccinations for all school employees and eligible students.

They also recommended a vaccination requirement for all participants and attendees at school-sponsored events.

Jurors stated that children ages 11 and under depend on adults and teenagers to keep them safe from infections.  

“All staff, teachers, and eligible students returning to in-person activities within any Sacramento public school facility must be vaccinated to protect this vulnerable population,” the report declared.

Sacramento County’s 13 public school districts must respond to the grand jury report within 90 days of receiving the document.

COVID-19 vaccines are not required for the 63,000 students enrolled in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Aug. 12 order, all K-12 school employees must either be vaccinated or regularly tested to prove they are COVID-negative. School districts have until Oct. 15 to show compliance.

Elk Grove Unified spokesperson Xanthi Soriano said that her district will know the number of vaccinated employees after Oct. 18.

The Elk Grove school district returned to full-time, in-person learning this July. Students and staff are required to wear masks when they are indoors. Elk Grove Unified also offers alternatives to in-person learning such as online classes at the EGUSD Virtual Academy and the independent study program at Las Flores High School.

Elk Grove Unified’s website has a “dashboard” report of students and staff who were either infected with COVID or were told to quarantine after a potential COVID exposure. Since March 2020, the district reported that 634 students and 293 employees had COVID cases. As of Sept. 22, there were 48 active COVID cases and 207 active quarantines.

The Sacramento County grand jury completed their report on Aug. 26 and released it to the public on Sept. 16. This document was written a few days after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine for ages 16 and older. In California, residents ages 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID.

Jurors stated that more vaccinations are needed to reduce the spread of the COVID Delta variant in Sacramento County. They noted that infection rates arose among children in California this summer and stated that more than 4,800 new COVID cases were reported in patients ages 0-17 between July 1-14.

Since March 2020, COVID-19 infected 5,971 children ages 0-9 and 12,721 residents ages 10-19 in Sacramento County, according to the grand jury report. They also reported that the county had 15 deaths of children and teenagers ages 0-19.

In their summary, jurors said that too few residents in Sacramento County are vaccinated against COVID-19. They reported that as of Aug. 16, 52% of the county’s eligible residents were fully vaccinated. Jurors stated that herd immunity against COVID can be achieved if 80% of a population is fully vaccinated. They added that 23% of Sacramento County’s population were ages 17 and under, according to the 2010 census.

Regarding school sporting events and other extracurricular activities at campuses, the grand jury argued that proof of vaccinations should be required since masks are often not feasible at those events.

“It is widely acknowledged that children need social activities as part of the process through which they develop skills, attitudes, and values,” the grand jury report stated. “Vaccinations are the only solution to ensure that these activities are provided safely.”

The grand jury also stated that schools should offer remote classes as an option for unvaccinated students.

Sacramento County’s COVID-19 case rate has been declining in the past few weeks. As of Sept. 21, there were 23.8 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents, according to a county public health report. In contrast, there were 38.4 cases per 100,000 residents on Sept. 1. Since March 2020, the county, which has a population of 1.5 million residents, had 146,789 COVID cases and 2,113 COVID-related deaths. Of the total cases, the county public health staff estimated that 137,377 of them “likely recovered” since 21 days passed since they were diagnosed.

As of Sept. 20, the city of Elk Grove had 16,583 COVID-19 cases and 177 COVID-related deaths since March 2020.