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COVID Vaccine: Proof of Vaccinations or Weekly Testing to be Required For State Employees, Health Care Workers

OAKLAND (CBS SF/AP) -- California will require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or get tested weekly as officials aim to slow rising coronavirus infections, mostly among the unvaccinated.

Governor Gavin Newsom was to make the announcement at a press conference Monday at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oakland where he was joined by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and state Sen. Nancy Skinner.

"It's our belief and desire to step things up at this stage of the pandemic. Our projections are sobering. Our projections over the course of the next couple weeks will show a significant increase in hospitalizations," said Newsom. "If we continue down this path our projections will put addition pressure on systems like Kaiser's and systems all throughout the state."

Governor Newsom Highlights New State Efforts to Encourage More Californians to Get Vaccinated by California Governor Gavin Newsom on YouTube

The new rule will take effect early next month, officials announced Monday. There are at least 238,000 state employees, according to the California controller's office. Health officials couldn't immediately provide an estimate on size of the health care workforce in the nation's most populated state.

About 62% of all eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, and the state has struggled to make significant progress in recent weeks.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced a similar plan Monday that requires 340,000 city employees, including teachers and police officers, to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing.

Meanwhile, the more contagious Delta variant now makes up an estimated 80% of infections in California. Hospitalizations are on the rise, though still far below where they were during the winter peak.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf spoke briefly before Newsom and said that Oakland would be considering a similar plan requiring vaccinations or regular testing among city employees.

"Governor Newsom, I know your announcement today will inspire employers to do the right thing for their workers and who they serve. I know the city of Oakland is inspired by your example and we -- as an employer -- will be getting to work immediately to explore adopting similar policies," said Schaaf.

Newsom said there was evidence that people are beginning to change course on their reluctance to get vaccinated.

"Here's the good news, last week, we saw a 16 percent increase in the number of people getting their first dose or receiving a J&J vaccine," said Newsom. "We are seeing as well an increase in people getting vaccinated in what we refer to as the healthy place index quartile one. Forgive me, I just lost 99 percent of you, but for the one percent who understand what I'm talking about that's the most vulnerable zip codes in the state of California, those are the communities most at risk. Communities most impacted by this pandemic."

Newsom acknowledged that some resistance remained among those who were wary of getting the COVID vaccine, but decried those who were making the vaccination and COVID protocols a political issue.

"There are many people who are still vaccine hesitant. That's why the state put $40 million up -- we announced this last week in a Cal Vax grant program -- to encourage family practices, family physicians, to have a private setting where they can address that anxiety and that hesitancy," Newsom said. "But we are exhausted, respectfully, exhausted by the ideological prism that too many Americans are living under. We're exhausted by the Ron Johnsons and the Tucker Carlsons, we're exhausted by the Marjorie Taylor Greenes. We're exhausted by the right-wing echo chamber that has been perpetuating misinformation around the vaccine and its efficacy and safety. We're exhausted by politicization of this pandemic, and that includes mask wearing that has been equated to the Holocaust. It's disgraceful, it's unconscionable and it needs to be called out."

At UCSF, 93% of staff are vaxxed even without a mandate in effect. But cases are still rising fast according to School of Medicine chair Bob Wachter.

"Today was an interesting day because more and more organizations in the last day or two have now begun to mandate vaccinations or very, very frequent testing," said Wachter.

Even in highly vaccinated cities like San Francisco, UCSF says there has been a staggering increase in hospitalizations, with about 90% of cases involving unvaccinated patients.

"The problem with COVID is people have to come to understand this issue of exponential growth," said Wachter. "Things go down fast, but they go up fast and once they start going up, they go even faster."

New York City also announced Monday that it will require all of its municipal workers — including teachers and police officers — to get coronavirus vaccines by mid-September or face weekly COVID-19 testing.

The Alameda County Public Health Department later issued a statement voicing its strong support for the new order and encouraged all health care and high-risk congregate living setting workers to get vaccinated as soon as possible as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise locally.

"We applaud the State's action to protect vulnerable residents from the spread of COVID-19," Alameda County Deputy Health Officer and Medical Director of the Health Care Services Agency Dr. Kathleen Clanon said in a release. "As we continue to see rising cases, today's Order emphasizes the important role of vaccination in ending this deadly pandemic."

In California, the rising cases come against the political backdrop of an upcoming recall election against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. He allowed the state to reopen on June 15 and has been hesitant to impose new requirements on mask-wearing or social distancing, even as major counties — including Los Angeles County — require or urge residents to again wear masks indoors.

Voters will start receiving ballots in the mail in about three weeks, with election day scheduled for Sept. 14.

Kenny Choi contributed to this story.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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