Updated July 27
California will require health care workers and state employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or be tested weekly and wear masks at work.
The ramp-up in pressure to get vaccinated comes as case rates and hospitalizations climb due to the more highly contagious delta variant.
State employees must show proof of vaccination by Aug. 2. Workers who do not must continue to wear masks at work and be tested at least weekly.
Workers in health care and congregate settings — including both public and privately owned clinics — have until Aug. 23. Hospital workers who do not submit proof of vaccination must undergo twice-weekly testing and wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
Employees in outpatient and congregate settings such as dental offices, jails and nursing homes must wear surgical masks and be tested at least once a week if they do not show proof of vaccination.
With the announcement, California became the first state to require certain employers to verify their workers’ vaccination status. New York City announced a similar rule Monday, as did the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Most private employers can require their workers to be vaccinated, and many long-term care facilities have mandated it, according to the AARP.
California state workers unions haven’t taken a specific stand on the vaccination or testing requirement itself. The largest state workers union says it wants more clarity on the rules, such as if a state worker needs to follow the new rules if they are teleworking or not returning to the office.
"The governor’s press conference focused on his position on the vaccine and testing but stated nothing in regards to how it might affect state employees who telework," SEIU Local 1000 President Richard Louis Brown said. "In fact, right now there appears to be no centralized teleworking policy. Instead, it has been left to the individual state agencies."
The move is largely supported by those in the healthcare community. The California Primary Care Association said in a statement that the science is clear: that the vaccines work and they are safe, and that testing for all unvaccinated healthcare workers fits the model for good prevention.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers says they think the move will “help nudge hesitant caregivers to get vaccinated while decreasing the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak inside medical facilities.”
California's vaccine distribution has slowed since the state opened up vaccinations to all people 16 and older on April 15. At its peak, the state was averaging 400,000 doses a day in April. That has dropped to around 60,000 a day through much of July.
Sacramento County, where a large population of state employees live and work, is averaging 16.7 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, which would have put it in the purple tier under the state's former reopening system.
“When you look at the cases we're getting, the majority of the cases are people that are not vaccinated,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye told CapRadio’s Insight last week. “So the virus is finding ways into the community, especially for those that are still vulnerable.”
While the new proof of vaccination requirement applies only to certain sectors, state officials urged other employers to require their workers to submit proof of vaccination.
Monday’s move marks a switch from incentives like the state’s vaccine lottery to more direct pushes for vaccinations.
Gov. Gavin Newsom called the current situation “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“We’re at a point in this pandemic where choice — individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated — is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way,” Newsom said Monday. “That choice has led to an increase in case rates, growing concern around increase in death rates and hospitalization rates.”
Newsom also criticized “the right-wing echo chamber” of vaccine misinformation, calling out Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
“We are exhausted by the politicalization of this pandemic. That includes mask-wearing that has been equated to the Holocaust. It’s disgraceful, it’s unconscionable and it needs to be called out,” Newsom said.
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