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California to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for all state workers, health care employees

"If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, now is the time.” | The requirement comes as officials aim to slow rising coronavirus infections.

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. — All state employees and all workers at hospitals and health care facilities across California will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination under a state policy announced Monday by Governor Newsom, and those who are unable or refuse to do so will have to be tested at least once a week.

The vaccine-verification program for the state's roughly 246,000 employees will take effect August 2 and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks. The new policy for health care workers and congregate facilities will take effect on August 9, and health care facilities will have until August 23 to come into full compliance.

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.

Homeless shelters, jails and senior centers will also need to verify employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo the regular testing.

"Too many people have chosen to live with this virus," Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference in Oakland to announce the requirement. "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.

The policy 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 in June. The average daily rate of new cases has more than quadrupled and is now at least 9.5 per 100,000 people, up from 1.9 per 100,000 on May 15.

"California is committed to vaccination, verification, and/or testing on a weekly basis," Newsom said. 

Reaction to the new policy was swift. Father Joe's Villages in San Diego is fully on board. 

"The positive here is we know this requirement and policy is gonna result in higher rates of vaccination and for that, we're excited because it will protect people, our community at large, and also people we serve and our staff," said Dr. Jeffrey Norris, Father Joe's chief medical officer. 

St. Paul's Senior Services has locations in all corners of San Diego County; and is, "definitely on the vaccination bus."  

"We have gone back into masks for all staff and maintaining high levels of masks in our nursing facilities and assisted living and everything we do is about protection and prevention," said Ellen Schmeding, St. Paul's Senior Services chief operating officer.

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.

In announcing the 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.

Newsom said he hopes the state's policy will encourage other businesses "across the spectrum" to take similar steps.

He noted that the state has seen an uptick in the number of people getting vaccinated in recent weeks. State officials said there was a 16% increase last week in the number of people getting their first dose of the vaccine, compared to the previous week.

But Newsom also had strong words for "the right-wing echo chamber" that he said has politicized the virus and spread misinformation about the vaccines, contributing to hesitancy among many people.

"We are exhausted, respectfully, exhausted by the ideological prison that too many Americans are living under," Newsom said. "We're exhausted by the Ron Johnsons and the Tucker Carlsons, we're exhausted by the Marjorie Taylor-Greens, we're exhausted by the right-wing echo chamber that has been perpetuating misinformation around the vaccine and its efficacy and safety. We're exhausted by the politicization of this pandemic and that includes mask-wearing, which has been equated to the Holocaust. It's disgraceful. It's unconscionable. And it needs to be called out."

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, responded to Newsom on Twitter, writing, "Gavin Newsom, you know what is exhausting to the people of California? Your communist dictatorship. Shutting down businesses, closing churches, schools and beaches is disgraceful. ... Which is why you're being recalled."

Newsom commented back to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, tweeting "Disgraceful? Here's a word -- murderous. Your anti-vaccine lies are literally killing Americans. Your own supporters are following you off a cliff and into the ICU. Come clean about vaccines -- they save lives."

The state has not issued a new mask-wearing mandate like the one recently implemented in Los Angeles County, requiring face coverings for everyone indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Newsom said a majority of residents are living in counties that have either a mask-wearing mandate or recommendation in place.

Mask-wearing will be required in schools as they return to in-person instruction. Newsom noted that teachers are not state employees and thus will not be impacted by the vaccination-verification program.