Why are testing requirements for exempt covered workers being rescinded?
California has seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of Californians that are fully vaccinated and boosted. Since the start of the pandemic, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has led with science and data to better understand this disease. Vaccine coverage is high among workers in high-risk settings, and the proportion of unvaccinated workers is low. As we've also seen, the Omicron subvariants have shown immune escape and increased transmissibility, and while unvaccinated individuals still have higher risk of infection, previously infected, vaccinated, and boosted persons have also been infected. Consequently, mandated testing of the small number of unvaccinated workers is not effectively preventing disease transmission as with the original COVID-19 virus and prior variants earlier in the pandemic.
Accordingly, amendments to
the State Public Health Officer Order of February 22, 2022 regarding required
testing for exempt covered workers are needed at this time, to reflect recent
CDC recommendations, the current science of the Omicron subvariants, the
increases in community immunity from vaccination and infection, and increases
in vaccine coverage of our healthcare workforce.
When does this amended order go into effect?
This amended order is effective September 17th, 2022.
Are covered facilities still recommended to test workers?
Covered facilities should maintain capacity at their worksite, to continue to test as recommended during outbreaks, and in the event it is required again at a future date. Facilities may also still consider various screening testing strategies (point in time testing, serial testing, etc.) and based on concerning levels of transmission locally. Workers may also consider routine diagnostic screening testing if they have underlying immunocompromising conditions (e.g., organ transplantation, cancer treatment), due to the greater risks such individuals face if they contract COVID-19.
Are there specific facilities that will continue to have testing requirements?
Skilled Nursing facilities must continue to comply with current federal requirements that may require more stringent testing of staff, including QSO-20-38-NH REVISED (cms.gov) "Interim Final Rule (IFC), CMS-3401-IFC, Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency related to Long-Term Care (LTC) Facility Testing Requirements" or similar requirements that may be imposed in the future.
Vaccination and Boosters
Are the requirements for vaccination and booster for covered workers still in effect?
Current requirements regarding vaccination and booster for covered workers remains in effect. Additionally, facilities must continue to track worker's vaccination or exemption status. Effective February 22, 2022 workers who provide documentation of previous infection (after having received their full primary series of COVID-19 vaccine) may defer their booster dose for up to 90 days from date of infection. Workers with a deferral due to a proven COVID-19 infection must be in compliance no later than 15 days after the expiration of their deferral.
Why are there new changes regarding the timing of when to get a booster dose?
California has always made decisions based on science. As we have continued to learn more about post-Omicron infection immunity, waning immunity in general, and what new variants may evolve, changes to timing of booster doses have been updated to reflect this new science and recent CDC recommendations.
Why are we requiring booster doses?
Current vaccine requirements of staff in health care settings did not prove sufficient to prevent transmission of the more transmissible Omicron variant. Although COVID-19 vaccination remains effective in preventing severe disease, data suggest vaccination becomes less effective over time at preventing infection or milder illness with symptoms, especially in people aged 65 years and older. Boosters have been available in California since September 2021.
Accordingly, making boosters mandatory are necessary.
How does the vaccination and booster requirement affect new covered workers coming into compliance? Will current covered workers be required to receive the bivalent booster?
CDPH continues to urge all individuals to remain up-to-date on the COVID-19 vaccines (including the bivalent booster when due) to protect themselves and reduce the spread of the virus.
For covered workers who are already in compliance with receiving the primary series and at least one booster, there is not a new requirement to receive the additional bivalent booster.
For covered workers who are newly coming into compliance with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement including a booster, receipt of the bivalent booster will be required, based on the timing included in Table A of the order, since it is the only currently authorized booster.
Why are we allowing those that had an infection after completion of their primary series to defer their booster dose?
has been a growing body of evidence suggesting that a combination of history of
SarsCoV2 vaccination and infection can lead to a strong “hybrid” immunity after
recovery from infection. Additionally, there is immunological data suggesting
that allowing an adequate interval between an infection and a COVID-19
vaccination dose may be important to allow quality immune memory. Thus, CDPH updated its order
requiring health care workers to be fully vaccinated and boosted by March 1, 2022 to allow delay of the
March 1, 2022
deadline for receiving a booster for covered workers with proof of a recent
infection for up to 90 days from date of infection. This update reflected the
current science and understanding as it relates to hybrid immunity in those who
are fully vaccinated and then become infected.
If a worker is not eligible for a booster dose, can they still defer any future booster doses by 90 days if they become infected with COVID-19?
Yes, if a covered worker is not currently eligible for a booster dose, but becomes infected with COVID before the recommended timeframe indicated in Table A in the order, they may still defer their booster dose by 90 days from the date of infection.
Workers with a deferral due to a proven COVID-19 infection must be in compliance with the booster requirement no later than 15 days after the expiration of their deferral.
How can a worker provide proof of prior infection?
Workers must provide documentation (including date of infection) of previous diagnosis from a healthcare provider or confirmed laboratory results to provide proof of COVID-19 infection.
Are there any exemptions to the vaccination mandate?
The Order allows for two exemptions: (1) the worker is declining vaccination based on sincerely held religious beliefs or (2) the worker is excused from receiving any COVID-19 vaccine due to Qualifying Medical Reasons. To receive an exemption, a worker must participate in their employer's interactive process.
What are Qualifying Medical Reasons?
To determine qualifying medical reasons, the physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed medical professional practicing under the license of a physician should refer to Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines from the CDC, specifically, clinical considerations, as well as contraindications and precautions. The identified contraindications include:
- Documented history of severe allergic reaction to one or more components of all the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S.
- Documented history of severe or immediate-type hypersensitivity allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, along with a reason why you cannot be vaccinated with one of the other available formulations. Additionally, the Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines provides information on what are neither contraindications nor precautions to COVID-19 vaccination, which includes:
- Allergic reactions (including severe allergic reactions) not related to vaccines (COVID-19 or other vaccines) or injectable therapies, such as allergic reactions related to food, pet, venom, or environmental allergies, or allergies to oral medications.
Will the State be providing a template declination / exemption form for use?
No, the State will not be providing a template declination/exemption form for use. Facilities may use any existing form or process previously used for other mandated vaccines. If an entity does not have a previously used form, they should ensure that the requirements as stated in the Order are met, including written health care provider's statement where applicable, and testing records pursuant to section (3) of the Order.
How will you verify workers are vaccinated and boosted?
Each facility will be required to verify and keep record of vaccination status. Pursuant the CDPH Guidance for Vaccine Records Guidelines & Standards, facilities have multiple options to verify vaccine status.
Is contracting COVID-19 the best way to gain immunity from subsequent infection?
No. Completing the COVID-19 vaccination series, including a booster, is the safest and more dependable way to build immunity to COVID-19 than getting sick with COVID-19. The level of protection people get from infection may vary widely depending on how mild or severe the illness was, the time since infection, the variant that caused the infection, and the individual's age. Vaccine-derived immunity is much more predictable and dependable. In addition, people who get COVID-19 are at risk for potentially severe outcomes.
If I had COVID-19, why do I need the vaccine at all?
California health officials strongly recommend getting vaccinated even after a COVID-19 infection. Research shows that the vaccine is effective and can further boost your immunity. For example, some people who have had a COVID-19 infection do not produce the same antibody levels as those who got the vaccine. However, not everyone infected will develop the ability to prevent getting infected again.
Are there health risks if someone receives their booster after completing their vaccine series and recovering from COVID-19 infection?
There are no known health risks with receiving a booster dose after testing positive or receiving a clinical diagnosis of COVID-19, and information is evolving regarding the development of optimal immune memory for evolving SarsCOV-2 virus variants.
Covered Settings and Workers
What facilities are impacted by the order?
The following health care facilities will be impacted by the Order:
- General Acute Care Hospitals
- Skilled Nursing Facilities (including Subacute Facilities) [LM1] [LP2] [LP3] [BM4]
- Intermediate Care Facilities
- Acute Psychiatric Hospitals
- Adult Day Health Care Centers
- Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) and PACE Centers
- Ambulatory Surgery Centers
- Chemical Dependency Recovery Hospitals
- Clinics & Doctor Offices (including behavioral health, surgical)
- Congregate Living Health Facilities
- Dialysis Centers
- Hospice Facilities
- Pediatric Day Health and Respite Care Facilities
- Residential Substance Use Treatment and Mental Health Treatment Facilities
Are there any requirements for exempt workers while in the facilities?
Exempt workers must wear a well-fitting respirator approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), such as an N95 filtering facepiece respirator, or surgical mask, at all times while in the facility.
Is it everyone in these settings or just workers who interact with patients?
It applies to all individuals who are either paid or unpaid and are in indoor settings where (1) care is provided to patients, or (2) patients have access for any purpose.
Does this Order cover those who are not directly employed by the facility, but may be providing services or care in the facility? Is there a minimum frequency of time spent within a facility that falls under this Order that would make this Order apply to those who are not technically employed by the facility but provide service within the facility?
The Order applies to any individual who works in indoor settings where (1) care is provided to patients, or (2) patients have access for any purpose. This includes workers serving in health care or other health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or SARS-CoV-2 airborne aerosols. This would include workers, who may not be directly employed by the facility, but who are providing care on site at one of the covered facilities, as well as persons not directly involved in delivering health care, but who could be exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted in the health care setting (e.g., clerical, dietary, environmental services, laundry, security, engineering and facilities management, administrative, billing, and volunteer personnel).
Are Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Who Provide Services In Residential Settings Required to be Vaccinated?
The Public Health Officer Order dated August 5, 2021, requires all workers who provide services or work in certain indoor long-term care settings (e.g., skilled nursing facilities, hospice facilities, PACE Centers, etc.) receive their first dose of a one-dose regimen or their second dose of a two-dose regime by September 30, 2021. This health order covers all paid or unpaid Long-Term Care Ombudsman representatives who provide services in those indoor long-term care settings
Are High Risk Congregate Settings covered under this Order?
and Local Correctional Facilities with integrated health care settings are
subject to the State Public Health Officer's Order of February 7 for Correctional
and Detention Centers and Adults and Senior Care Facilities are subject
to the State Public Health
Officer's Order of February 7 for Adult Care Facilities and Direct Care Worker
Are dental offices included in this Order?
No. Dental offices are not included in this Order.
Who will be responsible for enforcement of the requirements under this Order?
Each covered facility will be required to enforce the vaccine mandate of their respective staff (including any staff that may come from a contracted staffing agency).
To the extent that the covered facilities are subject to state regulation, the state's regulating entities will ensure each facility is meeting the requirements for vaccine verification/exemptions. For example, the California Department of Public Health will enforce this requirement at hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, and the other health care facilities it licenses; and the Department of Health Care Services will enforce this requirement at residential substance use treatment and mental health treatment facilities. Local health jurisdictions may also enforce the orders.
What should a facility do if they suspect a fraudulent vaccine card is being presented as proof?
Facilities should work with their counsel and may report suspected cases of healthcare fraud to the U.S. Health and Human Services through their tip line at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or by using other ways to contact the hotline.
When did the original Order take effect?
original Order went into effect August 5, 2021.
Will the July 26 Public Health Order continue to apply?
The July 26th Order has been rescinded.
Will this take staff away from already busy hospitals?
Keeping both workers and patients safe is our top priority and the purpose of this Order. We do not believe it will take staff away from already busy hospitals.
Originally published on December 22, 2021