All state employees and all workers at hospitals and healthcare facilities across California will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination under a state policy announced Monday.
Anyone who is unable to show proof or refuses to do so will have to be tested at least once a week for the virus.
The vaccine-verification program for state employees is expected to begin as early as next week. The system for healthcare workers will be implemented over the coming weeks, with compliance expected by Aug. 23. It will apply to all healthcare settings across the state — public and private.
The policy falls short of a vaccine “mandate,” offering employees the option of undergoing regular COVID testing instead of providing proof of vaccination. Those workers will be required to undergo testing at least once a week, possibly even twice a week.
The policy, announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom, comes in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers and hospitalizations statewide. According to state officials, there were nearly 3,000 people hospitalized due to COVID as of Monday, up from about 900 on May 15. The average daily rate of new cases is now at 9.6 per 100,000 people, up from 1.9 per 100,000 on May 15.
“Too many people have chosen to live with this virus,” Newsom said during a news conference in Oakland. “We’re at a point in this epidemic, this pandemic, where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way. That choice has led to an increase in case rates, growing concern around increase in death rates and self-evidently around hospitalization rates.”
State officials noted that the daily infection rate among unvaccinated residents is believed to be more than 14 per 100,000, compared to about 2 per 100,000 among the vaccinated population. That equates to unvaccinated residents being infected at roughly seven times the rate of vaccinated people.
Newsom criticized what he called the “right-wing echo chamber” for encouraging hesitancy in getting vaccinated, specifically accusing Fox News’ Tucker Carlson of “perpetuating misinformation around the vaccine and its efficacy and safety.”
The new vaccination policy was quickly praised by one of California’s independent healthcare unions.
“The National Union of Healthcare Workers applauds Gov. Gavin Newsom for taking bold and timely action to protect the health of caregivers and patients, and slow the spread of COVID-19 when cases and hospitalizations are once again surging in California and across the country,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the union.
In announcing the vaccination policy, state officials urged private employers in California to consider implementing similar systems of verifying vaccination and requiring testing for unvaccinated workers. Current workplace rules in the state only require employers to verify workers’ vaccination status if they want to remove face masks in indoor workplaces. Unvaccinated workers must wear masks indoors.
State officials said private employers have the legal authority, if they choose, to require workers to be vaccinated.
Updated at 1:05 p.m., Monday, July 26, 2021
City News Service contributed to this article.