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Gov. Newsom: COVID-19 booster mandate for health workers, testing investments will combat omicron

KCRA Sacramento logo KCRA Sacramento 12/22/2021
Gov. Gavin Newsom © KCRA Gov. Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that a Feb. 1 deadline for health care workers to get a booster shot along with more investments in rapid COVID-19 tests for students and expanded hours at community testing sites will help protect Californians from a surge in cases of the omicron variant.

Newsom detailed the three new COVID-19 actions in comments to reporters while visiting a testing clinic at the Native American Health Center in Alameda County. Shortly before speaking, Newsom gave himself a rapid, antigen COVID-19 test.

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The actions he announced include:

  • A Feb. 1 deadline mandating eligible health care workers to get a COVID-19 booster shot. He said there was "broad support" from partners for the action. "In the interim, all health care staff that have not received their booster must test for COVID-19 twice weekly until they are up to date on their vaccines," the state said in a release.
  • The state was ordering 6 million COVID-19 tests and will distribute 1-2 tests to every student before they return to schools after winter break. The California Department of Public Health "will work with local education and health partners to distribute those test kits as quickly and efficiently as possible."
  • The state will work with COVID-19 testing partners to extend hours at OptumServe sites.

Omicron has raced across the globe since the highly contagious variant was first detected in South Africa last month. It accounted for 73% of new COVID-19 infections in the United States last week, federal health officials said.

Areas in the Midwest and Northeast have seen the biggest surge in cases but rates are rising in California, too.

Newsom said that California has the lowest COVID-19 test positivity rate in the country at 3.3% but that rate is up from 2.3% a week ago. New cases have doubled in a week, from 5,400 to 11,000, he said.

“You can do the math on this to get a sense of the challenge that we all face here in this state, the country and around the rest of the world,” Newsom said.

The omicron variant now represents "well north" of 50% of all sequenced cases, he said.

Health officials have pushed the need for higher rates of vaccinations and people getting boosters in response to the surge.

More than 70% of eligible people in the Golden State are fully vaccinated and another 8% partially vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard. About 42% of those eligible for a booster shot have gotten one.

More than 61% of people across the country are fully vaccinated.


Video: 'We need to be safe': Stockton residents react to older teens' COVID-19 booster eligibility (KCRA Sacramento)

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients with COVID-19 cases caused by omicron generally have symptoms that include a cough, fatigue, congestion or a runny nose.

Data out of South Africa showed that people infected with the variant had mild symptoms. But some doctors have pushed back at reports that omicron is mild, saying it’s too soon to know for sure since many of the earlier cases have been in people who were vaccinated or younger.

“Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant,” the CDC says on its website. “However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.”

Newsom said that so far hospitalizations are "holding steady" but "we can't take anything for granted."

This week the California State University and University of California systems said they would require COVID-19 booster shots for faculty, students and staff. UC Davis said it would hold classes remotely to start the winter quarter. Several other UC schools said they would go remote for the first two weeks after the holiday break.

The fast-spreading omicron variant has also led to a push for more access to widespread testing.

President Joe Biden said in an address to the nation Tuesday that the government had purchased half a billion at-home rapid COVID-19 tests that will become available next month for free through the mail via a new website.

The administration has also said it will require health insurance providers to reimburse customers for the purchase of at-home COVID-19 tests. Details of that plan are set to be finalized by Jan. 15.

Meanwhile, CVS Health and Walgreens have limited the number of at-home tests for sale due to spiking demand.

Newsom urged people to visit community testing sites.

| MORE | Here’s how to find free COVID-19 testing locations in Northern California

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