LOS ANGELES - California is putting its foot down in making sure all hospital workers in the state are fully vaccinated.
On Thursday, the California Department of Public Health announced all workers in health care settings must be fully vaccinated or receive their second dose by September 30, 2021. The announcement comes in the wake of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU patients due to the delta variant.
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The order comes days after Governor Gavin Newsom announced state workers and workers in health care to either show proof of vaccination or be tested for the virus once a week. With Thursday's vaccine requirement announcement, hospital workers will no longer have the option to test weekly.
"As we continue to see an increase in cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, it’s important that we protect the vulnerable patients in these settings," said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer, in a press release. "Today’s action will also ensure that health care workers themselves are protected. Vaccines are how we end this pandemic."
The new order applies to the following employees, according to the state:
- Hospital workers
- Skilled nursing facilities workers
- Any other health care settings
California is also requiring visitors at acute care facilities to either show proof of vaccination or test negative for COVID-19 for indoor visits.
REACTION TO THE NEW RULE
Arnulfo De La Cruz, the Executive Vice President of SEIU 2015, California's long-term care workers union, weighed in on the announcement.
"I want to appreciate the leadership of the Governor and our public health officials in the state of California because one thing that was very important for us – given the impact that this pandemic has had on members of SEIU 2015, on skilled care facilities, those who provide care and those whom they care for over the past 15 months. It was central to us that the state of California include caregivers and those they care for as part of any decisions or recommendations around the vaccine and we're happy that we were brought to the table and that the voices of caregivers were heard," he said.
De La Cruz said the announcement did not come as a surprise to him.
"Given the most recent iteration of the spread of this continued virus with the delta strain, it wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when more aggressive efforts were to be done as it related to vaccines," he said.
De La Cruz said one concern is staffing, an issue that is already plaguing the industry.
"There's a crisis right now as it relates to being able to hire enough certified nursing assistants to do the work of caregiving in our skilled nursing facilities across California. We don't want this to be a disincentive to finding workers in such a rewarding and important profession so we have to think what more we can do," he said.
He said it is important to ensure there is enough PPE for staff and to raise wages.
Federal data shows nearly one quarter of hospital workers in Southern California are unvaccinated. De La Cruz said he believes the majority of the union is vaccinated, but there are holdouts.
"I'm gonna be honest. There's not a day that goes by that I don't speak to someone who has some hesitancy as it relates to the vaccine and the same way there's not a day that goes by that I don't hear from someone who just got the shot," he said.
Gisella Thomas, a Respiratory Therapist at Desert Regional Medical Center, is "elated" about the decision.
"I am very, very, very, very happy to hear that is going on. I know there's going to be some resistance but I'm elated," she said.
She has worked as a Respiratory Therapist for 50 years and works primarily in the emergency room and trauma center.
"Nothing comes close to what's going on right now. We literally went through hell. It was overwhelming. You had people dying on a regular basis, and now it's starting back up again," she said.
She said she hopes the mandate will encourage more workers to get vaccinated.
"I hope common sense steps in with everybody and they know that it really is for the protection of us as healthcare workers. I don't want to go back to running into the house, stripping down because I need to wash that stuff off before I meet somebody or see somebody in the family so I hope people get vaccinated," she said.
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