California public health officials will now require that all state employees and health care workers either prove they are vaccinated or take weekly tests.
It’s a stark change in state policy that heavily relied on the honor system so people could drop their masks — state employees and health care workers could simply “self attest” to being vaccinated and not have to show proof.
State officials said they expect the changes to be fully implemented by mid to late August.
Officials didn’t say if they’re considering requiring other employers — like restaurants or grocery stores — to require workers prove their vaccine status or get tested weekly.
But one public health official, during a Monday media briefing, said employers are free to require vaccine verifications, noting some already are and others are considering it.
The announcement comes as Orange County’s coronavirus positivity rates continue increasing, reaching 5.5% as of Thursday, as local experts say the Delta variant is largely fueling the rise.
Gov. Gavin Newsom leveled criticism against vaccine misinformation and people who refuse to get the shot.
“Too many people have chosen to live with this virus,” Newsom said at a Monday news conference. “Individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is impacting the rest of us … that choice has led to an increase in case rates.”
The increases started shortly after the June 15 statewide reopening, which marked an end to most pandemic restrictions throughout the Golden State.
Yet this time is markedly different because everything is open and roughly half of the county is fully vaccinated, said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and public health expert at UC Irvine.
“Knott’s Berry Farm is open, which wasn’t true last Summer. So is Disneyland. I won’t rule out that we have a peak comparable to last Summer’s peak — you got indoor dining, we’re more open,” Noymer said in a Monday phone interview.
As of Monday, about 58% of Orange County’s residents have been fully vaccinated.
It’s a rate Noymer — and other public health experts — want to see increased.
“I think the winning strategy is vaccines. I don’t want to talk about masking to the exclusion of vaccines,” he said.
Noymer also said the vaccines are still effective against the new Delta variant, which is much more contagious than the original strain.
“It is effective, but it seems to be somewhat less effective against Delta as compared to Alpha,” Noymer said. “The vaccine works better than masks and that’s — we’re so fortunate to have a covid vaccine and so unfortunate that so many people don’t’ want to take it.”
While the county isn’t issuing a mask mandate, the OC Superior Court is.
“This decision was made out of an abundance of caution, as the Court was recently notified of two positive COVID-19 test results at the facility. Our focus remains the safety and health of our judicial officers, employees, justice partners, and our community,” reads a Sunday news release.
While state officials made no changes to guidelines for the general public, Orange County has been struggling with the honor system as residents — many of whom said they’d never take the vaccine — show up to supervisors meetings without masks.
County officials have said a person basically “self attests” they’re vaccinated when they don’t have a mask on.
“I am concerned that we’re in here, and supposedly everybody who is speaking has self-attested that they have been vaccinated,” Supervisor Katrina Foley said during last week’s meeting.
Her remarks were met with laughter from residents.
“I want the record to reflect that all those that have not been vaccinated are in the room under a mockery of self-attestation,” she added.
Meanwhile, Newsom lambasted people comparing the pandemic to the Holocaust.
“We are exhausted of the politicization of this pandemic and that includes mask wearing that has been equated to the holocaust that’s disgraceful and it is unconscionable and it needs to be called out.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio