Santa Clara County requires COVID boosters for workers in high-risk settings
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody speaks on rising omicron infections and a new limited health order for high-risk settings. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Some workers in Santa Clara County will soon need a COVID-19 booster shot in order to continue working in high-risk settings.

Santa Clara County health officials announced a new, limited health order Tuesday that requires some employees to have a booster shot as a condition of employment. The mandate will effect all public and private employees in the county who work in:

  • Skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, adult day care facilities and memory care facilities
  • Health care delivery facilities (such as hospitals, clinics, medical offices, dialysis centers) where patient care is provided, as well as medical first responders
  • Jails and other correctional facilities
  • Congregate shelters

 

The order comes as the county braces for a surge in omicron variant infections. In about two weeks, omicron infections have risen from 10 cases in the county to 60, according to the county COVID dashboard. Case rates have also increased, with a seven-day rolling average of 328 infections. Last week, the county saw a rolling average of 187 cases.

Despite growing infections, hospitalizations are “relatively flat,” according to Dr. Sara Cody, public health officer.

“The omicron variant grows with breathtaking speed, at doubling times of around two days in many communities,” Cody said. “Throughout the pandemic, first we see a rise in cases, and a bit later we see a rise in hospitalizations.”

Cody said the new limited health order is primarily to ensure regional hospitals are not inundated with patients, like they were last year. She anticipates case rates climbing higher this winter than they did last winter—when the county saw its biggest surge—because of the speed at which omicron spreads.

However, the health officer said other mandates similar to last year will not be needed because the county now has other tools it didn’t have previously.

“We have plentiful high-quality masks. Many buildings have been retrofitted and are better ventilated. We have sites for testing, we have vaccination, we have boosters, so I think that what we all need to do is all use those tools and we will be able to get through this surge,” Cody said.

The booster mandate builds on a recent health order passed by the state on Dec. 22 that mandates up-to-date vaccination for workers in certain health care and long-term care settings by expanding the requirement for more employee and congregate groups.

The local order also requires workers in these settings to be boosted by Jan. 24 rather than the state’s deadline of Feb. 1, “given how quickly the omicron variant is accelerating spread of COVID-19, and widespread availability of vaccination appointments in our community,” county officials said in a statement.

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said high-risk setting employers will likely have to reassign workers to other roles that do not involve direct patient care. Photo by Jana Kadah.

The county’s health order also has a unique element in that it prohibits those with medical and religious vaccine exemptions to work on the front line in high-risk settings.

“Just to clarify, it does not in any way affect an employer’s ability to process approval for religious or medical exemption,” County Counsel James Williams said. “But it affects what is then done in that process of that exemption.”

Williams said high-risk setting employers will likely have to reassign workers to other roles that do not involve direct patient care.

The limited health order also encourages other employers to have workers with up-to-date vaccinations, but does not require it. Already, the California State University system has required booster shots for all students, staff and faculty on campus by Jan. 10 and San Jose is considering a booster mandate for city employees and those who use city-owned facilities by the end of January.

To reduce COVID spread, Cody recommends residents avoid large gatherings indoors and to wear masks indoors in settings where there are more than 10 people. She also recommends everyone over age 16 get the booster shot.

“We do have the capacity to absorb the demand,” Cody said. “I believe that you can get the same day or next day appointment, especially if you’re willing to go to a site that may not be right near your home.”

More than 81% of Santa Clara County residents are fully vaccinated. So far, 52% of the eligible county population and 67% of those 65 years and older are boosted.

Those interested in scheduling a booster shot can do so here.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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