California plans to be the first state to enact a new requirement for a major employment sector.
The California Department of Public Health announced it soon would require workers in hospitals, nursing facilities, long-term care homes and other health care-related fields to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide proof of a medical or religious exemption. Workers would have to comply with the new order by the end of September.
The agency’s announcement is a policy change from previous guidance, which said workers would have a choice to either be vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 tests as a condition of employment.
To qualify for exemption, a worker must provide a statement of religious belief against the vaccination or submit a physician’s statement saying they’ve got a condition that precludes them from being inoculated.
The DPH blamed the coronavirus’ delta variant, which is now the most common strain causing new infections in the state.
“California is currently experiencing the fastest increase in COVID-19 cases during the entire pandemic with 18.3 new cases per 100,000 people per day, with case rates increasing ninefold within two months,” it said in a release. “The Delta variant is highly transmissible and may cause more severe illness. In fact, recent data suggests that viral load is roughly 1,000 times higher in people infected with the Delta variant than those infected with the original coronavirus strain, according to a recent study.”
The DPH said health care workers often are exposed to vulnerable patients, including the elderly, chronically ill, critically ill, medically fragile and disabled patients with statistically higher mortality rates from COVID-19 infections.
Most states have issued guidance on vaccinations for health care workers that allow for either vaccination or a regular testing regimen. In neighboring Oregon, state law bans vaccination as a condition of employment in the health care industry, though local lawmakers are eyeing a change to that statute.
The DPH soon also will require visitors to hospitals, nursing homes and other service centers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result.