Silicon Valley health care workers need COVID shots or weekly tests
Alexandra Murdough, a registered nurse in the COVID-19 ICU unit at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, gets a bandaid applied after receiving the first dose of the vaccine in January 2021. Photo by Vicente Vera.

With coronavirus cases on the rise, California health care workers must now be vaccinated or get tested weekly for COVID-19 and wear masks, in accordance with a new state policy announced Monday.

The policy follows a statewide surge in COVID-19 infection rates due to the Delta variant, now the dominant strain in California. As of this month, 80% of new cases in the state are a result of the Delta variant.

As of July 27, Santa Clara County has had approximately 154 new positive infections per day in the past seven days.

All employees of hospitals, nursing homes, dental offices and all other health care settings must be in compliance with the policy by Aug. 23.

Michelle Mello, Stanford University professor of law and medicine, said lawmakers can enforce this policy because they have more power when it comes to protecting public health in light of the severity of the pandemic, whereas other vaccinations are not as easily required.

She thinks the policy is a good compromise for those who are vaccinated and those who do not want to get vaccinated.

“That’s a razor’s edge that lawmakers have to balance, sort of figuring out what the right balance is,” she told San José Spotlight. “This strikes me as a very reasonable balance.”

But Mello said the policy, which falls short of a mandate, could be difficult to enforce because health care workers are adults with their own autonomy.

B. B. Gerstman, epidemiologist and retired San Jose State University public health professor, said he agrees with people having their own autonomy, but thinks everyone should get vaccinated.

“I believe in people having civil liberties, but this is beyond that,” he said. “The science is so clear.”

Approximately 77.1% of eligible Santa Clara County residents, or more than 1.3 million people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19—one of the highest rates in the state.

Some health care workers are resisting the vaccine, which could complicate enforcing the new state policy.

But hesitancy about getting a shot is not just an issue for California. In June, more than 150 nurses refusing shots were fired or resigned from a hospital in Houston, Texas.

“We don’t have that sharp a lens into why there are still holdouts in that group given the risk that they face and the risk that they present to patients,” Mello said, adding that health care workers who are hesitant to get inoculated are usually in lower  positions and less educated.

Gerstman said those who do not want to get vaccinated need to consider how that may affect those around them.

“These people may feel like they have a right to take the risk themselves, but it’s not only themselves they’re putting at risk, it’s everybody else,” he said.

Mello agrees that all health care workers should be vaccinated.

“I think it’s very hard for them to sustain the argument that they shouldn’t have to be vaccinated on the job,” she said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated how many positive infections were reported.

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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