California will require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or get tested weekly, tightening restrictions in an effort to slow rising coronavirus infections in the nation’s most populous state, mostly among the unvaccinated.
The new rule will take effect next month, officials announced Monday. There are at least 238,000 state employees, according to the California controller’s office, and at least 2 million health care workers in the public and private sectors.
While about 62% of all eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, the state has struggled to make significant progress in recent weeks. Infections and hospitalizations are rising, with the highly contagious delta variant now making up an estimated 80% of cases in California, though the growing numbers are still far below where they were during the winter peak.
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“An individual’s choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in announcing the new policy.
Despite the change for state workers and increasing infections, the Democratic governor has been hesitant to impose new requirements on mask-wearing or social distancing since he allowed the state to reopen on June 15. It comes as Newsom faces a recall election in September that’s largely over his handling of the pandemic, with California having been the first to impose a statewide stay-at-home order last year and business and school shutdowns lasting longer than many other states.
Now, local governments like Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest county — are requiring or urging residents again to wear masks indoors. And cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area previously imposed COVID-19 vaccination requirements for workers.
Santa Clara County officials said they plan to require all 22,000 county employees to get vaccinations, not waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to grant full approval for the COVID-19 vaccine to implement the policy, which is still being developed.
Officials said most employees are already fully vaccinated.
New York City also announced Monday that it will require all of its municipal workers — including teachers and police officers — to get vaccines by mid-September or face weekly testing.
In California, those without proof of vaccination will continue to be required to wear masks at work.
“If they’re not vaccinated and we cannot verify that they’ve been vaccinated, we are requiring that they get tested,” Newsom said of state workers. “California is committed to vaccination, verification and or testing on a weekly basis. We’re not stopping just with state employees.”
He said vaccine verification will also be required in jails and homeless shelters.