California Gives Health Care Workers 6 Weeks to Get COVID Booster or Potentially Lose Job

Roughly 2.5 million health care workers in California are at risk of losing their job if they don't get their COVID-19 booster shot by February 1, state officials announced Wednesday.

Governor Gavin Newsom stated during a press conference that all health care workers in the state have six weeks to get their booster shot or face unemployment.

The California Nurses Association said in a news release that they are looking into the new booster mandate and support everyone getting the vaccine, but "a multiple-measures approach to infection control is the most effective, and vaccination is just one, albeit critical, component."

The nurses association said health care workers need more personal protective equipment and more staff to handle the influx of patients at hospitals.

Since December 1, California has seen a 12 percent spike of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. On Tuesday, the state reported 3,589 patients infected with the virus are in hospitals.

California had previously implemented vaccine mandates for health care workers in September but thousands didn't comply and either lost their job or have been suspended.

More than 8.8 million Californians have received their booster shots so far.

"We need to increase that number if we're going to hold the line and decrease the growth for hospitals," Newsom said.

Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shot
Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all California health care workers have until February 1 to get their booster. Above, DeMarcus Hicks, a nursing school graduate working as a FEMA contractor, gives a person a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot on December 20, 2021. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

A new mandate for booster shots could convince more workers to quit. But the California Hospital Association on Wednesday said it supported the new rule "to further protect health care workers and hospital patients."

"While we don't yet know enough about Omicron to determine its precise impact on the need for hospital care, we do know that booster shots offer an additional layer of protection—something that will be vital to ensuring care for all in need as California and the nation as a whole continue to face a persistent shortage of health care workers," California Hospital Association President and CEO Carmela Coyle said.

While hospitals have far fewer coronavirus patients than they did a year ago, most are struggling with a shortage of health care workers. A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco estimated a statewide nursing shortage would persist until at least 2026.

The current number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are far less than the peak of last winter's surge, when the state had nearly 22,000 coronavirus patients back before vaccines were widely available. Today, more than 70 percent of California's roughly 40 million residents are fully vaccinated.

Much about the Omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say Omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including Delta. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing an omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

Federal officials said Monday omicron is now the most common form of the virus in the U.S., accounting for 73 percent of all cases. In California, state officials estimate Omicron accounts for about half of cases, but Newsom said the true number is likely much higher and will be released on Thursday.

Two of the nation's largest public university systems—California State University and the University of California—announced students must have a booster shot for the spring semester.

California also requires other groups to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, including state workers and, eventually, teachers and students. But Newsom said Wednesday there is no plan to require those other groups to get a booster shot.

Instead, he said California would provide up to two take-home coronavirus test kits for each of the state's more than 6.1 million public school students while also expanding hours at the 6,288 state-run testing centers.

However, Newsom said rules about booster shots could change.

"Hopefully we won't have to consider that if all of our interventions are successful," Newsom said.

California is doing a lot better compared to other states in terms of the virus' spread. Of everyone tested for the virus in California, just 3.3 percent test positive—the lowest rate in the nation, Newsom said. California has the sixth-lowest case rate, with 13.6 new cases for every 100,000 people over seven days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Covid-19 Testing LAX
More than 8.8. California residents have received their COVID-19 booster shots so far. Above, travelers wait in line to get tested for COVID-19 at Los Angeles International Airport on December 20, 2021. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

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