State Watch

Half of unvaccinated California state workers not being tested: report

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Only about half of California’s 59,000 unvaccinated state employees were tested in the first week of October, despite a mandate enacted this summer requiring state workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. 

The finding from the The Los Angeles Times comes about three months after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued the first-of-its-kind mandate, and is based on data from the California Department of Human Resources. 

In its report, the Times specifically cited the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in which 6,700 employees are either not vaccinated or did not provide their status to the department. However, Cal Fire said it is only testing 75 employees.

At the Department of Motor Vehicles, 59 percent of employees are fully vaccinated, but only 411 of the department’s 3,600 unvaccinated employees are being tested, the Times added. 

“If we don’t have the warning system of testing, then we need to reconsider what we are doing,” Dorit Reiss, a law professor who specializes in vaccine policies at the UC Hastings College of the Law, said to the Times. “Testing is not a great substitute for vaccinating, but it’s a great backup and better than nothing.”

Newsom had set an Aug. 2 deadline for California workers to be vaccinated. But that deadline has been largely ignored with no repercussions for those who were non-compliant, according to the Times.

A spokesperson for Newsom said “we still have progress to make” but added the program was “progressing well thanks to the leadership and hard work of coordinators at many departments.”

“I’m not sure we would agree with the idea that most departments have low vaccination rates; many departments have high vaccination rates, exceeding 90 percent,” the spokesperson added. “The average is 67 percent and growing with the implementation of testing, which is being expanded to more and more sites each week.”

Employees who were fully remote did not have to be tested or submit proof of vaccination, the Times noted.

“The entire point of Gov. Newsom being the first governor to say state employees should be vaccinated is because these employees are public interfacing, and the vaccine protects them and the public they serve. Then, if the testing component isn’t being universally applied, you are defeating the point,” infectious-disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi told the Times.

When Newsom announced the mandate for state employees, the governor also mandated vaccines for healthcare workers. Unlike other employees, people in healthcare were not given the option of testing instead of vaccination; however, they could request a medical or religious exemption. 

The Times noted that the healthcare worker vaccination push was seemingly more successful than the one for state employees, with one hospital system reporting that its employee vaccination rate jumped from 60 percent to 90 percent following the mandate. 

The Hill has reached out to Newsom’s office for comment.

Tags California COVID-19 vaccine mandates Gavin Newsom

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