Amid climbing numbers of hospitalizations and a test positivity rate of 80% for the COVID-19 delta variant, all state employees and health care workers will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, the California Health and Human Services and Government Operations agencies and Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in separate news conferences on Monday morning.
Under the new order, all state employees will be required to show proof of vaccination by Aug. 2. Unvaccinated employees will be required to follow a testing protocol and must wear masks indoors, the state agencies said. Verification of vaccination status would be through a vaccination card or a vaccination code through the state Department of Public Health.
Unvaccinated hospital workers in both public and private facilities and employees working in congregate care settings would be required to be tested twice weekly and wear N95 masks. Unvaccinated workers in outpatient settings must be tested once per week and wear surgical masks by Aug. 9.
Officials stopped short of issuing a mandate for proof of vaccination verification from employees at private businesses, but the state is encouraging employers to put a similar plan in place. Vaccination is key to keeping the economy going and schools open, the agencies said.
"We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it's going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous delta variant," said Gov. Gavin Newsom. "As the state's largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same. Vaccines are safe — they protect our family, those who truly can't get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic."
Newsom clarified that teachers are not required under the state mandate to show proof of vaccine verification, but he hoped that school districts also would adopt a proof-of-vaccine policy. The state wants to get children back into school for in-person learning, he said.
The call for greater scrutiny of proof of vaccination comes as the state saw its biggest jump in COVID-19 cases over the weekend after weeks of rising case numbers. The state reported 7,500 cases per day over the weekend, an increase from 6,400 reported per day last week. Since May 15, the state positivity rate has jumped to 9.6 cases per 100,000 people from 1.9 cases per 100,000.
The numbers also show a striking disparity between case rates for unvaccinated patients and vaccinated patients. The seven-day average for unvaccinated patients who tested positive for COVID-19 was 14 cases per 100,000 compared to just 2 cases per 100,000 for those who were vaccinated, the agencies said.
Hospitalizations also have increased from 900 patients on May 15 to 3,000. Hospital admissions have risen to 600 patients per day compared to 150 patients per day in the first half of May.
Newsom said that the profiteering of misinformation by right-wing pundits has put people at risk, and he called them out for fomenting distrust in science. He likened the choice of not getting a vaccine against the deadly virus to having the choice to drive drunk and put other people at risk.
Newsom noted that the longer we wait to extinguish COVID-19, the more likely we will face another variant that might make the vaccines less effective. He said the state is focusing on vaccinations and is at this time not returning to a mask mandate.
California has a vaccination rate of more than 75%. While vaccination levels slowed down for multiple weeks, there have been some signs that people are starting to take the delta virus more seriously. The state saw a 16% increase in vaccination rates last week, the agencies said.