Gov. Gavin Newsom

To counter a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” fueled by the delta variant and vaccine hesitancy, California on Monday became the first state to require all state workers, as well as workers in long-term care and other healthcare settings, to get a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing.

“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,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement. “Vaccines are safe — they protect our family, those who truly can’t be vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic,” he added.

Healthcare settings in the Golden State, including residential care facilities, will need to verify that workers are fully vaccinated or tested regularly. Unvaccinated workers will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing and will need to wear personal protective equipment.

The new policy for state workers will take effect Aug. 2, and testing will be phased in over the following weeks. The policy for healthcare workers and congregate living facilities, which also includes homeless shelters and jails, will take effect Aug 9. Healthcare facilities will have until Aug. 23 to become fully compliant.

In an email to its members on Tuesday, LeadingAge California backed the state vaccination mandate. This support follows the national organization’s call Monday, for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for long-term care and other healthcare workers. 

“This move, while uncomfortable, is necessary to move us out of the ongoing pandemic,” LeadingAge California President and CEO Jeannee Parker Martin wrote in the email. “To protect the lives of those we serve, our staff and their families, we call on all LeadingAge California members to move quickly to ensure full vaccination of their staff as a moral and ethical obligation to those in our care.”

Martin told McKnight’s Senior Living that she recognizes that some providers are concerned about the effect the vaccine mandate will have on their workforce, but she said those fears are not playing out. She gave the example of one of the association’s larger members reporting that only nine of its 550 employees (1.64%) chose to resign rather than be vaccinated against COVID-19 when faced with a mandate.

“That’s an indication to us that most individuals are willing to get vaccinated, and most individuals understand the importance of getting vaccinated,” Martin said, adding that a mandate may be the “nudge” some need to get vaccinated. 

More than 90% of staff members and residents in California’s senior living communities have been vaccinated, she added, attributing those high numbers to educational efforts that LeadingAge California and other senior living and care associations have done about the importance of vaccinating older adults and keeping staff members safe. 

California Assisted Living Association President and CEO Sally Michael told McKnight’s Senior Living that the association joins the governor in “urging everyone to get vaccinated now.”

“Assisted living providers support efforts to ensure all our workers are fully vaccinated because it protects our residents, their families and our workforce,” Michael said. “Vaccines are critical to our success in getting past COVID-19 and any requirement to verify vaccination status and undergo rigorous testing protocols supports that goal.”

Increasing mandates

California is not alone in its efforts to increase vaccination.

Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all city workers must be vaccinated by Sept. 13 or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The announcement came as coronavirus cases rose to more than 800 per day in the city, more than triple the daily average in June.

This announcement follows a similar mandate issued last week for the city’s public healthcare workers in city-run hospitals, clinics and 45,000 city employees in congregate and residential settings, including senior living communities. In a virtual press conference, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dave Chokshi said the requirements for workers in “more risky settings, such as foster care shelters or seniors centers,” will begin on Aug. 16. 

In Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment updated guidance last week requiring residential care facilities to perform rapid testing for COVID-19 on unvaccinated staff members daily prior to each shift.

And the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to implement a coronavirus vaccine mandate, with some long-term care associations indicating they would monitor its success. Biden administration attorneys also prepared a legal opinion that could pave the way for additional federal agencies, as well as businesses, to require employee vaccination.

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