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California health care workers must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination; unvaccinated workers must get tested regularly

July 26, 2021 60581

July 29 update

While CDA strongly supports the principle behind Gov. Gavin Newsom’s newest public health order, it is important that the administration clearly articulates the nuance of the testing requirements prior to its implementation date. Many health care sectors, including dental, are facing workforce shortages and, at the same time, Californians are still facing access to care issues that have been further exacerbated by the cascading effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is crucial that the specifics of how the weekly testing requirements will be implemented and enforced are made clear and are in line with preserving the current dental workforce and, more importantly, keeping dental practice doors open to patients.

CDA continues to engage with the Newsom administration to obtain answers to our members' most pressing questions and will continue to fight to ensure dental chairs remain open to patients and that new mandates issued during the pandemic still allow dental practices to remain sustainable.

CDA published an FAQ answering members' top questions about the order.

Health care workers must show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing

To help slow the spread of the delta variant and protect access to essential health care services, California issued an order today requiring all health care workers in the state to either show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or be tested regularly.

Dental offices and dental office staff are included in the order. Dentist employers must verify that their workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Dental staff who are not fully vaccinated or who cannot show proof of vaccination is subject to weekly COVID-19 testing and will be required to wear surgical masks, at a minimum. CDA is working with state officials to clarify the requirements for dental practices, including how COVID-19 testing will be conducted and who will pay for it.

Related update: Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 8 signed CDA-supported legislation that permits California dentists to apply for the requisite laboratory licensure to administer rapid COVID-19 tests in the dental office. Read the CDA article for details and a link to CDA's updated COVID-19 Laboratory Testing Toolkit.

The statewide policy will take effect Monday, Aug. 9, with full compliance required by Aug. 23. The policy also applies to state workers as well as jails, homeless shelters, and other high-risk congregate settings, which may have different testing and PPE requirements.

60 medical organizations urge mandatory vaccination of health care workers

The state’s action today comes as the highly infectious delta variant causes a surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state, hitting communities with lower vaccination rates particularly hard.

During the week ending July 23, COVID-19 cases more than quadrupled from a low of 1.9 cases per 100,000 people to at least 9.5 cases per 100,000, according to state data. Current hospitalizations are approaching 3,000 compared to 900 in June, and the COVID-19 case rate among the unvaccinated is 600% higher than it is for those who are fully vaccinated.

The American Medical Association along with several dozen major medical organizations issued a joint statement today advocating that “all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine” noting the highly contagious delta variant and “significant numbers of unvaccinated people.”

In response to the new policy, Judee Tippett-Whyte, DDS, CDA president, stated: “This new order is a strong public health policy that appropriately encourages California health care workers, who are community lifelines to essential care, to get vaccinated. The evidence is indisputably clear that vaccines are safe and effective against serious COVID-19 illness. While the majority of the state’s dental team members are already vaccinated, it is my hope that this new order will be the final push many individuals still on the fence need to get fully vaccinated.”

CDA’s Vaccine Confidence Toolkit includes resources just for dentists

A recent survey of practicing dentists in California showed that 94% of surveyed dentists are vaccinated against COVID-19. The online survey, conducted jointly by CDA and the California Department of Public Health, found that vaccination among dental team members varied slightly with approximately eight out of every ten dental staff vaccinated.

Dentists and their teams can find dozens of resources in CDA’s COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Toolkit. The toolkit is updated regularly to include the latest information on COVID-19 testing in the dental setting, employer best practices and policies, and more. A new FAQ covers the delta variant, including its transmissibility and the effectiveness of the vaccines against it. 

FAQ on employee testing, more details forthcoming

Dentists can find answers here to questions related to employee testing. Because of the complications of allowing employees to be tested, some health systems in the state are requiring or promoting employee vaccination in lieu of testing.

1. Which COVID-19 tests will qualify for weekly testing (e.g., point-of-care tests, rapid tests, community testing sites), and do tests need to be approved by the FDA?

Antigen and PCR tests qualify and must be FDA approved. The tests can occur at any of those sites.

2. If rapid COVID-19 tests qualify, do providers need to have a Laboratory Field Services/CLIA license to administer the test?

[Updated answer Oct. 25.] Yes. Currently, a CLIA waiver is required to administer a rapid COVID-19 test and, on Oct. 8, 2021, Gov. Newsom signed into law CDA-sponsored legislation that allows dentists to obtain the requisite state lab testing licensure (LFS).

3. Will providers be able to test their own employees (if the tests are not the point of care), especially if the employee is not a patient of record?

Yes, they can use the PCR testing programs, which are run by the state, or providers can use a private company. Providers can locate private testing companies by viewing the “lab list” on the Testing Task Force’s website.

More details about the state’s new vaccination and testing policy are forthcoming. CDA is engaging with policymakers about additional details on testing unvaccinated dental staff, including how the policy will be enforced and specifics on how employers can arrange for the time it takes for staff to complete weekly COVID-19 tests.

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