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OPINION: On the Record: California Continues to Lead Fight Against COVID-19

It is especially important for those who are fully vaccinated to get their booster. This includes those 16 and up who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months prior, those 18 and up who received the Moderna vaccine at least six months before, and those 18 and over who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago. It’s critical that we keep our immunity strong, not just for ourselves, but for our communities. Even with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Californians have many reasons to remain hopeful because our state continues to move forward in the right direction.

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For the latest information on the Omicron variant go to CDPH.ca.gov and to find a COVID-19 vaccine or booster dose, visit MyTurn.ca.gov. To find a COVID-19 testing site, call (833) 422-4255 or visit your local county public health website.
For the latest information on the Omicron variant go to CDPH.ca.gov and to find a COVID-19 vaccine or booster dose, visit MyTurn.ca.gov. To find a COVID-19 testing site, call (833) 422-4255 or visit your local county public health website.

By Gov. By Gavin Newsom | Special to California Black Media Partners

Since the early days of the pandemic, California has led the nation’s fight against COVID-19 through robust vaccination efforts rooted in science and data. This has helped slow the spread of the virus and save countless lives, especially in our most vulnerable communities – someone’s parent and friend, and each of them a Californian.

We’ve been meeting people where they are, from partnering with local grocery stores, schools, and barbershops, to developing media content in more than 19 languages to reach California’s richly diverse communities. California’s public health measures are working, and much of our success can be attributed to our greatest tool to ending the pandemic: vaccines.

December 14 marks the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccine administered in California. We began by prioritizing vaccinations for our frontline health care workers and vulnerable older adults. Today, after a year of working in partnership with the federal government, local public health and community partners, millions of Californians aged 5 and older are now protected and helping to protect others from this deadly virus.

We’ve administered 61 million doses – more than any other state. Nearly 85% of all eligible Californians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 6 million adults have received a booster. I am so proud that Californians are quite literally rolling up their sleeves to help end the pandemic and keep each other safer.

The state has also made tremendous strides in closing vaccination equity gaps among our most vulnerable communities. Thanks to our dynamic partnerships with more than 130 faith-based and 700 community-based organizations, 77% of Californians living in our least healthy neighborhoods ages 12 and up have received at least one dose. Our work is far from over.

Although we are in a better position than we were at this time last year, we must continue to practice basic safety tips to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities against COVID-19. This starts with getting fully vaccinated if you haven’t already and getting your booster.

Simply put, vaccination can help you avoid serious illness, hospitalization and death. It is also important to wear a mask indoors – especially when we are uncertain of everyone’s vaccination status – keeping gatherings short, small and outside if possible, getting tested if you’re exposed to the virus, experiencing symptoms, or planning to travel, and staying home if you’re feeling sick.

It is especially important for those who are fully vaccinated to get their booster. This includes those 16 and up who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months prior, those 18 and up who received the Moderna vaccine at least six months before, and those 18 and over who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago. It’s critical that we keep our immunity strong, not just for ourselves, but for our communities. Even with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Californians have many reasons to remain hopeful because our state continues to move forward in the right direction.

I want to end this column with a personal note to each and every Californian.

Californians have met every challenge with vigor and courage, and together, we will continue to lead the nation in the fight against COVID-19. I wish you all a very happy holiday season with heartfelt wishes for a happy, safer, and brighter new year to come.

For the latest information on the Omicron variant go to CDPH.ca.gov and to find a COVID-19 vaccine or booster dose, visit MyTurn.ca.gov.

To find a COVID-19 testing site, call (833) 422-4255 or visit your local county public health website.

Activism

Citing COVID Safety Needs, Oakland High Teachers Limit Encounters with Students

According to Le’Lani Walker, a senior at OHS, teachers explained the work to rule action to students shortly before it began. Although she felt it was “kind of frustrating” when she needed a little extra help with chemistry, she “sees the bigger picture” and feels that the action will help students in the long run.

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Many teachers at Oakland High School have decided to refuse to do any work not stipulated in their contract in a labor action aimed at securing better COVID safety measures from the Oakland Unified School District. Photo of Oakland High School by Zack Haber on September 13, 2021.
Many teachers at Oakland High School have decided to refuse to do any work not stipulated in their contract in a labor action aimed at securing better COVID safety measures from the Oakland Unified School District. Photo of Oakland High School by Zack Haber on September 13, 2021.

By Zack Haber

Due to concerns about COVID safety issues, many teachers at Oakland High School have been engaging in ‘work to rule,’ a labor action tactic where workers only do the tasks specified in their contract, since January 6.

“It means is we don’t do anything extra,” said Cole Margen who teaches history at the school.

Teachers at Oakland High have been keeping their doors closed to students before and after school, as well as during lunch and their lesson planning periods.

According to David Byrd, a music teacher and union site representative at Oakland High, over 40 teachers out of 89 in the school have come to meetings related to the action and have committed to ‘work to rule,’ but he suspects more teachers are involved. Throughout the school, teachers have hung flyers on their doors indicating their support that say “To encourage greater COVID safety on our site this teacher is working to rule!”

Typically, most teachers at Oakland High School (OHS) would welcome students into their classroom for extra academic help and/or to socialize during non-classroom hours, even though their contract doesn’t require them to do so. English Immersion teacher Miles Murray thinks this extra work’s absence immediately becomes noticeable.

“There are extra hours we’re expected to work, and must work, in order to keep the school functioning,” said Murray. “We need to remind the public of that.”

While teachers interviewed for this article mentioned a variety of improved COVID safety measures they’d like to see OUSD implementing at OHS, they all stressed their demand for a safer environment for students to eat lunch, including more tables for the large cafeteria and more outdoor dining facilities. They report that the lack of spaces to eat safely and comfortably has forced students to eat in unsafe places, like the hallways.

“When I do work to rule and hold the line by saying ‘you can’t lunch in my classroom,’” said English teacher Marika Iyer, “I hope to make it clear to the admin, district and the community that these are not safe conditions.”

Oakland students also want safer options for eating lunch.

“I’m not sure where to go and I don’t feel like there’s anywhere safe to eat,” said Trey Shanklin, an OHS senior. “If OUSD provided more outside eating options I would definitely be eating outside more than inside.”

In an e-mail to The Oakland Post, OUSD director of communications John Sasaki stated that the district had built “covered outdoor structures at numerous schools since the fall,” and that they plan to continue to do so, but supply chain issues have slowed the process at some schools.

“Whenever [the materials] come in, our staff quickly gets them installed,” he wrote. “That will happen soon at Oakland High School.”

But until the facilities are installed at their school, OHS teachers say they plan to continue to work to rule.

In the meantime, the Omicron surge has affected OHS and other district schools. Murray, who was quarantining when he did his interview for this article due to becoming sick with the virus, said that in the days before his isolation period started, about a third of his students were out for reasons related to COVID-19.

A “no-go” list sent from OHS administrators to staff shows that between January 3 and 12, over 325 of the school’s approximately 1,550 students were absent at some point, usually multiple days, due to testing positive for COVID or COVID related quarantining.

OUSD’s data shows that, across the district, about 1,550 combined students and staff tested positive for COVID during the first two weeks back from school after winter break out of a total population of about 39,000.

As COVID cases have surged since coming back from break, students and staff at various OUSD schools have engaged in a variety of actions that they’ve labeled sickouts, strikes, and/or boycotts, that have involved them not coming to school out of protest.

These actions have been neither sanctioned nor denounced by Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union for OUSD. A teacher-led sickout action for better COVID safety measures announced on January 6 and executed on January 7 caused a dozen schools to effectively close for a day.

According to music teacher David Byrd, OHS teachers were inspired when they heard about the January 6 sickout but since their school has many newly hired teachers, they felt an action involving teachers calling in sick en masse could be too risky for those who weren’t tenured to want to engage in.

“We said we’re acting in solidarity, and we support these other sites,” said Byrd. “But how can we expect these new teachers to put so much on the line so quickly?”

OHS teachers were successful in getting both long-term and new teachers on board for the action. One non-tenured OHS teacher who asked not to be named due to fearing that speaking to media might make it less likely they get rehired next year, said they were participating because it showed the unpaid work teachers do and the unsafe conditions students and staff eat lunch in.

“I feel safe participating in the action because of the solidarity shared by my fellow staff,” they said. “Almost all doors now have the work-to-rule sign posted on them, so I am much less likely of being singled out.”

Byrd described work to rule as an easy action to start with and that he hoped it could unify the staff for more actions down the line. Murray feels work to rule has been effective and is putting the staff in a good position to consider more radical actions.

“Now everyone is activated on our campus and looking for the next action,” he said.

According to Le’Lani Walker, a senior at OHS, teachers explained the work to rule action to students shortly before it began. Although she felt it was “kind of frustrating” when she needed a little extra help with chemistry, she “sees the bigger picture” and feels that the action will help students in the long run.

“I strongly support it,” Walker said. “The fact that they’re doing everything within their power to get the attention of the district to address COVID safety issues is comforting.”

OHS students like Shanklin and Walker have been organizing their own actions and have been in communication with teachers about them. When the students did a sickout action on January 13 to demand better COVID safety measures such as more outdoor spaces to eat and twice weekly PCR and rapid tests, they asked OHS staff to join them.

“If you are able to participate,” students wrote in their letter. “Please call in sick, stay home, and send a message updating families about our demands and current events.”

The day before the sickout, Oakland High’s administration sent a message to parents asking them to keep their children at home during the sickout day, and that students wouldn’t be “adversely affected for not attending school” that day. Byrd and history teacher Cole Margen, who were on campus that day said the vast majority of students weren’t present. Substitute teacher request logs show 52 teachers were absent from school that day.

On Tuesday, January 18, OHS students again engaged in a boycott for the same demands as their January 13 sickout. This time students across the district also did not attend school.

The petition for the January 18 boycott that has over 1200 student signatures from over 20 schools, states “If these demands are not met, we will be striking by not attending school. We will be striking until we get what we need to be safe.”

While The Oakland Post was unable to get official numbers for absent students across the district during the boycott, six different OHS teachers estimated that between a third and just over half of the students at their site were absent on January 18 and 19.

To support the student boycott, teachers at three OUSD schools — Bridges Academy, Acorn Woodland Elementary School and United for Success Academy — all engaged in a sickout action that shut down their campuses on January 18. Murray thinks students and staff are increasingly coming together to demand better COVID safety measures from OUSD.

“It feels like there’s momentum across the whole district,” he said.

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Activism

Garden Planted at Marin School During MLK’s Holiday

Michelle Bryant, the Garden coordinator, was inspired by the White House Kitchen Garden that Michelle Obama started, and which was maintained by Melania Trump and now by the First Lady Jill Biden. The Garden supplies the White House kitchen with about 2,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs each year, and what is not used is donated to a food bank in Washington, D.C.

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Volunteers prepping the soil. Bottom: Start of Meditation Circle (Photos by Godfrey Lee)
Volunteers prepping the soil. Bottom: Start of Meditation Circle (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

By Godfrey Lee

About 50 adults and youths came to weed and till the soil at the children’s garden at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. This was a Day of Service in the Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday, on Jan. 17, and part of a year-long celebration of Marin City’s 80th birthday.

The event was organized by Felecia Gaston, the director of Performing Stars of Marin, and the Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church.

The event will help the students at the school get a head start in planting the crops for their vegetable garden. The garden needs to be planted before the end of January, according to Michelle Bryant, the Garden coordinator. Bryant also said that the soil, which has now turned black in color, is now richer and more fertile as it was left alone during the COVID Pandemic. While the garden became overgrown, the soil became more fertile, and should yield some good fruits and vegetables for the students in the school.

Some parents in the community came earlier in November to clear out the previous garden. Now Bryant is able to reimagine and improve the garden to have a meditation circle in the middle where the students can enjoy the garden. It will also have a victory rose garden and orchard trees, along with the other fruits and vegetables.

Bryant was inspired by the White House Kitchen Garden that Michelle Obama started, and which was maintained by Melania Trump and now by the First Lady Jill Biden. The Garden supplies the White House kitchen with about 2,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs each year, and what is not used is donated to a food bank in Washington, D.C.

Most significant to Bryant, in drawing inspiration from the 2800 square-foot White House garden, was the rich dirt that was used, and that children are able to walk through it.

The garden at the school will help students learn about growing the plants they will be eating. It resembles the abundance Bryant saw in Marin City when she was a child. “Everybody had something growing. They just loved the idea of being from the farm.” Bryant told the Marin IJ.

Gaston, who was working in the Garden, also told the Marin IJ “It’s a perfect time to bring people together from all diverse backgrounds, to come and do a day of service … and still continue the work of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

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Commentary

Black Caucus Endorses Sen. Kamlager to Replace U.S. Rep. Karen Bass

For months now, people in California political circles have been speculating that Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), 49, would enter the race to succeed Bass, but, until last week, she had neither denied nor confirmed the buzz around her candidacy. “Yes, the rumors are true. I know, some think it’s the worst kept secret, but I felt it would be presumptuous to make a final decision before the lines of the district were finalized and wanted to make sure this was the right decision for me and my family,” she tweeted last week.

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U.S. Congresswomen Karen Bass, California State Senator Sydney Kamlager. Public domain photos
U.S. Congresswomen Karen Bass, California State Senator Sydney Kamlager. Public domain photos

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) has thrown its support behind one of its own.

Last week, Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena) announced that the group of African American state legislators will endorse Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) to succeed U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37) in Congress.

Bass, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, announced in September that she is not seeking re-election to Congress to run for mayor of Los Angeles.

“Sydney Kamlager has spent her career prioritizing equity and access for Californians,” Bradford said, praising his colleague, who is also vice-chair of the CLBC.

Bradford and Kamlager are the only two Black lawmakers serving in the California Senate. The other nine members of the CLBC are all members of the Assembly.

“She has a distinguished legislative record on criminal justice reform, health care equity, environmental protections, and affordable housing,” Bradford continued, explaining the CLBC’s decision to support Kamlager.

For months now, people in California political circles have been speculating that Kamlager, 49, would enter the race to succeed Bass, but, until last week, she had neither denied nor confirmed the buzz around her candidacy.

“Yes, the rumors are true. I know, some think it’s the worst kept secret, but I felt it would be presumptuous to make a final decision before the lines of the district were finalized and wanted to make sure this was the right decision for me and my family,” she tweeted last week.

“I waited until the lines of District 37 were finalized before I officially launched my campaign for U.S. Congress,” she said in a statement.

In a special election last March, two-thirds of the voters in California’s 30th Senate District in Los Angeles County elected Kamlager to represent them in the upper house of the State Legislature.

Before that, Kamlager served in the State Assembly for three years, representing the 54th District, which includes Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights. A former district director for former California State Sen. Holly Mitchell, who she succeeded, Kamlager was also a member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees from 2015 to 2018 and served as its president.

The Democratic Primary will be held on June 7.

Kamlager faces two challengers: Culver City Vice Mayor Daniel Lee and Jamaal Gulledge, a UCLA staffer.

Bradford credits Kamlager for introducing several “landmark” criminal justice reform and anti-discrimination bills that have now become law in the state.

“Our state is fortunate to have such a qualified candidate who stands up for working families and small businesses,” he said.

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