SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s roughly 2.5 million health care workers have until Feb. 1 to get a coronavirus vaccine booster shot or risk losing their jobs, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
Newsom shared more details about the booster mandate in a Wednesday press conference that took place at a clinic in Oakland. The new rule was first announced by Newsom on Tuesday afternoon.
California, which was the first to require vaccinations for health workers in its healthcare system, became effective September 1. Most workers comply with the requirement. However, thousands more have lost their jobs or were suspended.
California now joins New Mexico in requiring a booster shot for health care workers. Also this week, two of the nation’s largest public university systems — California State University and the University of California — announced students must have a booster shot for the spring semester.
California mandates that other groups must be vaccinated and submit to weekly testing. Newsom stated Wednesday that there was no intention to make it mandatory for these other groups to receive a booster shot.
Instead, he said California would provide up to two take-home coronavirus test kits for each of the state’s more than 6.1 million public school students while also expanding hours at the 6,288 state-run testing centers.
Newsom suggested that booster shots rules could be changed.
“Hopefully we won’t have to consider that if all of our interventions are successful,” Newsom said.
California is doing a lot better compared to other states in terms of the virus’ spread. Of everyone tested for the virus in California, just 3.3% test positive — the lowest rate in the nation, Newsom said. California is the state with sixth lowest case rates, 13.6 cases per 100,000 residents in seven days.
California currently had 3,589 coronavirus-infected patients at the hospital as of Tuesday. That’s a 12.2% increase over Dec. 1. But that’s far less than the peak of last winter’s surge, when the state had nearly 22,000 coronavirus patients back before vaccines were widely available. Today, more than 70% of California’s roughly 40 million residents are fully vaccinated.
Many details about the variant of omicron coronavirus remain unknown. This includes whether or not it is more severe. Scientists believe that omicron is more easily spread than any other coronavirus strains including delta. Research suggests that booster shots will be required to protect against an omicron-related infection. But, even without this extra dose of vaccine, the vaccination should provide strong protection against death and severe illness.
On Monday, federal officials stated that omicron was the most prevalent form of the virus and accounts for 73%. California officials believe that about half of all cases are caused by omicron. Newsom however said that the truth is much greater and would be published on Thursday.
More than 10,000 new cases were reported in California on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Los Angeles County — the nation’s most populous with nearly 10 million residents — reported more than 6,500 new cases, more than double the amount from Tuesday. According to local health officials, the county may have over 20,000 new cases each day by the end.
Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said officials are not considering any booster requirements beyond the state’s new rules for health care workers. Los Angeles County’s population of more than 2,000,000 people over 5 years old is still unvaccinated. A mere 62% of eligible residents have yet to get a booster vaccine.
Over 8.8 million Californians are currently on a booster program.
“We need to increase that number if we’re going to hold the line and decrease the growth for hospitals,” Newsom said.
Even though hospitals now have far fewer coronavirus-infected patients than they had a year earlier, the majority of facilities are still struggling to find qualified health care workers. According to a University of California San Francisco study, a nursing shortage in California would continue until 2026.
Workers could be encouraged to leave by a new mandate regarding booster shots. But the California Hospital Association on Wednesday said it supported the new rule “to further protect health care workers and hospital patients.”
“While we don’t yet know enough about Omicron to determine its precise impact on the need for hospital care, we do know that booster shots offer an additional layer of protection — something that will be vital to ensuring care for all in need as California and the nation as a whole continue to face a persistent shortage of health care workers,” California Hospital Association President and CEO Carmela Coyle said.
California Nurses Association announced that they are reviewing the booster mandate for health workers. According to a release by the association, it said that everyone should be vaccinated and respected religious and medical exceptions. However, they stated that additional measures were needed to safeguard healthcare workers.
“Science shows that a multiple-measures approach to infection control is the most effective, and vaccination is just one, albeit critical, component,” the group said in a news release calling for more personal protective equipment and proper staffing levels at hospitals.
Stefanie Dazio, Associated Press Reporter, contributed reporting from Los Angeles.