HCP[i] working in hospitals remain at potential risk for SARS-CoV-2 exposures both in the community and in their workplace. Infected HCP can transmit to other HCP (through close contact in break rooms and other common areas) as well as to their patients. In December 2020, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommended routine SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic screening testing of hospital HCP to aid in early identification and work exclusion of infected HCP, reduce transmission risk to other HCP and patients, and prevent hospital outbreaks.
Coinciding with increasing circulation of more transmissible variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly with the majority of cases occurring in unvaccinated individuals. The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts, including testing and masking, needed to continue protecting against COVID-19. Early data also suggest the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant is two to four times as infectious as the Delta variant. Recent evidence also shows that among healthcare workers, vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infection is also decreasing over time.
In an ongoing effort to ensure patient safety and to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable individuals, CDPH is requiring GACHs to develop and implement processes for verifying the vaccination status of all HCP, and for obtaining and tracking documentation of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic screening testing of all unvaccinated exempt HCP and booster-eligible HCP who have not yet received their booster.
In accordance with Public Health Officer Order – Health Care Work Vaccine Requirement issued February 22, 2022, CDPH is requiring HCP be up to date with vaccinations and receive boosters by March 1, 2022, unless exempt. HCP who have completed their primary vaccination series and provide proof of subsequent COVID-19 infection may defer booster administration for up to 90 days from the date of clinical diagnosis or first positive test, which in some situations, may extend the booster dose requirement beyond March 1st. HCP not yet eligible for boosters or who show proof of infection must be in compliance no later than 15 days after the recommended timeframe for receiving the booster dose. Additionally, all unvaccinated exempt HCP and booster-eligible HCP who have not yet received their booster must be tested for COVID-19 at least twice weekly. Facilities must begin testing of all booster-eligible workers who have not yet received their booster by December 27, 2021 and be in full compliance by January 7, 2022.
GACHs can also implement additional infection control policies beyond these requirements, as some already have.
Verifying Vaccination Status and Options for Providing Proof of Vaccination
Per the CDPH Guidance for Vaccine Records Guidelines & Standards, only the following modes may be used as proof of vaccination:
- COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card (issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control & Prevention or WHO Yellow Card[ii]) which includes name of person vaccinated, type of vaccine provided, and date last dose administered); OR
- a photo of a Vaccination Record Card as a separate document; OR
- a photo of the client's Vaccination Record Card stored on a phone or electronic device; OR
- documentation of COVID-19 vaccination from a healthcare provider; OR
- digital record that includes a QR code that when scanned by a SMART Health Card reader displays to the reader client name, date of birth, vaccine dates and vaccine type; OR
- documentation of vaccination from other contracted employers who follow these vaccination guidelines and standards.
HCP may access their digital vaccination record by using the Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record website.
In the absence of knowledge to the contrary, an employer may accept the documentation presented as valid. Facilities must have a plan in place for tracking verified worker vaccination status. Documentation of the verification must be kept on file at the facility and made available upon request by CDPH or the local public health department.
Diagnostic Screening Testing of Unvaccinated Exempt or Booster Eligible HCP
- HCP who are unvaccinated exempt or booster-eligible HCP who have not yet received their booster must undergo at least twice-weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic screening testing.
- HCP who are unvaccinated exempt or booster-eligible HCP who have not yet received their booster that work no more than one shift per week must undergo weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic screening testing, and the testing should occur within 48 hours before their shift.
- HCP who are unvaccinated exempt or booster-eligible HCP who have not yet received their booster that work less often than weekly must undergo SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic screening testing, and the testing should occur within 48 hours before each shift.
- HCP who are unvaccinated exempt or booster-eligible HCP who have not yet received their booster that do not work in areas where care is provided to patients, or to which patients do not have access for any purpose, must undergo weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic screening testing.
GACHs can provide antigen testing or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to HCP. HCP may choose to use antigen or PCR tests provided by the GACH to satisfy this requirement. HCP shall be tested at the cadence specified above with either PCR testing or antigen testing. PCR testing is recommended if testing is conducted only once weekly as it is more sensitive, and more frequent testing improves outbreak prevention and control. Any PCR (molecular) or antigen test used must either have Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or be operating per the Laboratory Developed Test requirements by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
HCP must observe all other infection control requirements, including masking, and are not exempted from the testing requirement, even if they have a medical contraindication to vaccination, since they are still potentially able to spread the illness. Previous history of COVID-19 from which the individual recovered more than 90 days earlier or a previous positive antibody test for COVID-19 does not waive this requirement. HCP with COVID-19 should be excluded from work for the duration of their isolation period. GACHs should follow AFL 21-08.7, CDC Guidance on Mitigating Staffing Shortages, and CDC Return to Work guidance to determine when positive HCP may return to work.
For additional information about response testing, diagnostic testing of symptomatic HCP, diagnostic screening testing of asymptomatic fully vaccinated2 HCP, testing for patients, plans for use of test results, and procedures for work exclusion please refer to AFL 20-88.2.
Hospitals who conduct workplace diagnostic screening testing should have a plan in place for tracking test results, conducting workplace contact tracing and response testing, and reporting results to public health departments. There are IT platforms available that can facilitate these processes for employers. Testing is not a substitute for other COVID-19 prevention measures, such as vaccination, mask wearing, physical distancing, improved ventilation, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection.
Hospitals should continue to implement strategies to increase and maintain vaccination coverage among HCP as high as possible, including verifying vaccination status of new hires, and offering education, listening sessions, counseling, and vaccination at every opportunity, even to those HCP who have previously refused.
Additional Personal Protective Equipment and Masking for Unvaccinated HCP
The Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) Standard (Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations section 5199) requires employees working in an area or residence where a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case is present to use National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respirators. An N95 is the minimum protection permitted for these employees. A higher level of respiratory protection is required for certain medical procedures. Hospitals are covered by the ATD Standard.
The COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) (Title 8, sections 3205 – 3205.4) requires employers to provide NIOSH approved respirators, such as N95s, upon request to employees who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated and who are working indoors or in vehicles with more than one person.
Pursuant to the July 26, 2021 Public Health Order, all facilities identified in the Order must strictly adhere to current CDPH Masking Guidance. To the extent they are already applicable, facilities must also continue to adhere to Cal/OSHA's standards for ATD and ETS.
In addition to respirators required under Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, facilities must provide respirators to all unvaccinated workers who work in indoor settings where (1) care is provided to patients or residents, or (2) to which patients or residents have access for any purpose. Workers are strongly encouraged to wear respirators in all such settings. The facility must provide the respirators at no cost, and workers must be instructed how to properly wear the respirator and how to perform a seal check according to the manufacturer's instructions, if this has not already occurred.
GACHs may submit any questions about this AFL or about infection prevention and control of COVID-19 to the CDPH Healthcare-Associated Infections Program via email at HAIProgram@cdph.ca.gov.
If you have any questions about state testing prioritization plans, please contact the Testing Taskforce at email@example.com.
Original signed by Cassie Dunham
Acting Deputy Director
[i] Healthcare Personnel (HCP) refers to all paid and unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials, including body substances (e.g., blood, tissue, and specific body fluids); contaminated medical supplies, devices, and equipment; contaminated environmental surfaces; or contaminated air. HCP include, but are not limited to, nurses, nursing assistants, physicians, technicians, therapists, phlebotomists, pharmacists, students and trainees, contractual staff not employed by the healthcare facility, and persons not directly involved in patient care, but who could be exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted in the healthcare setting (e.g., clerical, dietary, environmental services, laundry, security, engineering and facilities management, administrative, billing, and volunteer personnel). For purposes of this guidance, this does not include HCP in other buildings in a site containing a High-Risk Setting, such as a campus or other similar grouping of related buildings, unless such personnel do any of the following: (i) access the acute care or patient areas of the High-Risk Setting; or (ii) work in-person with patients who visit those areas.
[ii] People are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19: two weeks or more after they have received the second dose in a 2-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization), or two weeks or more after they have received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson [J&J]/Janssen).