California: health workers must get booster shots

California health workers will need to get a booster shot for the coronavirus to get hospitals ready to cope with a spike in cases as the more transmissible omicron variant spreads across the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the order on Tuesday on his personal Twitter account and was scheduled to provide more details at a press conference on Wednesday.

California is already requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The directive went into effect in September and has since resulted in the firing or suspension of thousands of people. It will now join New Mexico as at least the second state to require re-injections for healthcare professionals.

Newsom last week, which introduced the first statewide closure order in March 2020, warned that such cases were likely to rise and reintroduced a rule requiring everyone to wear masks at indoor public gatherings.

Concerns stem from rising omicron levels, which as of Monday were the dominant variant of the coronavirus in the United States. The Midwest and Northeast regions are seeing the biggest jump in cases and hospitalizations amid cold temperatures that keep people from leaving their homes.

Much about this variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say the omicron spreads more easily than other strains of the coronavirus, including delta. Early research suggests that a vaccinated person will need a third vaccine to best prevent infection, but even without an additional dose, vaccination should provide reliable protection against serious illness and death.

California is doing much better so far than many other states. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists California as the location with “high” transmission of the virus, as it does almost everywhere in the country. But California averaged 114 new cases per 100,000 over the past week, less than half of the nationwide figure.

Although 70% of Californians have been fully vaccinated, 30% – or roughly 12 million people – have not yet been vaccinated. The California Department of Public Health says unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to be infected, nearly 13 times more likely to be hospitalized, and nearly 16 times more likely to die from coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in California is growing slowly – by 15% in the past 11 days to 3852. That’s less than half of the peak in late summer and a fifth of a year ago, before vaccines became widely available.

But while hospitals generally have fewer patients than last winter, many have fewer workers to treat the patients they have. The shortage of staff arises from the fact that enterprises, including hospitals, are unable to find workers. A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco showed that the state’s nursing shortage could persist until 2026.

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