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Health care workers told testing no longer a substitute for vaccination

Until yesterday, the state’s employees and health care workers had the choice to get fully vaccinated this month or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.

That order was amended Aug. 5, taking testing off the table but extending the vaccination deadline to Sept. 30, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“Increasing numbers of health care workers are among the new positive cases, despite vaccinations being prioritized for this group when vaccines initially became available,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, California’s public health officer. “Recent outbreaks in health care settings have frequently been traced to unvaccinated staff members.”

Three of the North Bay area’s biggest health care systems — Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and MarinHealth — won’t need to blink an eye at the updated order. Each has previously announced new policies requiring full vaccination, sans testing, by Sept. 30.

After Newsom’s July 26 announcement, Solano County-based NorthBay Healthcare stated it supported requiring the vaccination and/or testing mandate.

The updated mandate, however, did not catch NorthBay Healthcare by surprise.

“The state order was not unexpected, so we’ve been anticipating the possibility of getting our entire workforce vaccinated,” said Steve Huddleston, vice president of public affairs. “Amid the flurry of previous state edicts and other health systems creating their own plans prior to the state order, there’s been some confusion and many questions from our employees.”

Huddleston said NorthBay is “reviewing the fine print in the state order” and will have an implementation plan ready soon.

“We are confident we will meet the state’s deadline and hopefully have completion before that date,” he said.

After the first order was announced last month, Providence St. Joseph Health’s hospitals in Northern California, which include Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, released a statement that it would begin planning for full vaccination or testing.

In an updated statement provided Aug. 6, Providence said it will continue to follow the new guidance, dropping the testing option.

The Aug. 5 order, which modifies but does not supersede the July 26 order, also still allows exemptions for religious beliefs and qualifying medical reasons, Aragón said.

“Unvaccinated persons are more likely to get infected and spread the virus, which is transmitted through the air,” he stated. “Most current hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated persons.”

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