With coronavirus infection and hospitalization numbers spiking, California officials on Monday announced a new vaccine verification program for all state employees and health care workers, moving away from the current self-attestation process.
State employees who do not provide evidence of vaccination will be required to undergo mandatory testing at least once a week, a California Health and Human Services official said in a media briefing. Currently, state employees who want to take off their face masks inside state offices only need to self-attest to receiving the COVID-19 shot.
Also, health care facilities — public and private — as well as high-risk congregate setting will be asked to verify vaccination status of workers and require unvaccinated employees to get tested for the virus regularly.
“We need to step things up at this stage of the pandemic,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a media briefing. “Our projections are sobering.”
Newsom said projections show California will see a significant increase in hospitalizations “if we continue down this path.”
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly also stressed the dangers posed by the highly contagious delta variant, which is now accounting for just over 80% of coronavirus samples sequenced in the state.
“The delta variant has really changed the game a bit,” Ghaly said. “It’s not the COVID we dealt with a year ago. This is a very different beast.”
The state on Monday also recommended that unvaccinated health care workers go back to wearing N95 masks. In outpatient settings like dental offices, unvaccinated workers will be required to get tested once a week and wear surgical masks.
A state official said the new requirement is to make sure that California’s health care workforce is available for the upcoming COVID-19 rate increases that the state anticipates.
The spike in hospitalizations has already begun. Less than 900 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 at a low point in June, and now California is nearing 3,000 hospitalized statewide Monday, according to state data.
While the new verification and testing requirement only applies to state employees and health care workers, California officials on Monday encouraged all employers statewide to consider having a vaccine verification system in place, and to encourage testing for those who are unvaccinated in order keep outbreaks as low as possible.
The new push for vaccination and testing comes as the state sees a new surge in infection numbers.
The state’s coronavirus case rate has more than quadrupled from a May low of 1.9 cases per 100,000 people to at least 9.5 cases per 100,000 Monday.
The vast majority of new cases are among the unvaccinated, officials said. The coronavirus case rates among the unvaccinated are 600% higher than for those who are vaccinated.
“Too many people have chosen to live with this virus,” Newsom said. “We’re at a point in this pandemic, where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way.”
The new verification and testing protocol will go into effect Aug. 2 for state workers and Aug. 9 for health care facilities. It will be implemented over the course of several weeks, with state officials saying they expect full compliance by Aug. 23.