California ends COVID test mandate for unvaccinated workers

California has lifted coronavirus testing requirements for unvaccinated workers at schools, health care facilities and other congregational facilities, the latest rule set to be reversed as the state enters a new phase of the pandemic, officials say.

The changes, which went into effect Saturday, mean employees in those areas who have not yet completed their primary COVID-19 vaccine batch will no longer have to undergo weekly testing.

Unvaccinated state employees working in “non-risk environments” also no longer need to be tested weekly, according to a memo from the California Department of Human Resources.

Such surveillance screening was once a key pillar of California’s pandemic response. However, the benefits of practice are less pronounced—a result of both relatively widespread vaccine coverage and the prevalence of hyperinfectious omicron subvariants.

“We have entered a phase of the pandemic where the majority of people in these workplaces are vaccinated and our youngest Californians are now also eligible for vaccination, protecting all of our communities from serious illness, hospitalization and death,” said Dr Tomás Aragón , Director of the California Department of Health. “While unvaccinated individuals remain at greatest risk of serious health outcomes from COVID-19 infection, weekly testing of unvaccinated groups is no longer slowing the spread as it did earlier in the pandemic due to the more contagious Omicron variants.”

Although the state has eliminated weekly testing requirements, public health officials are still encouraging schools and employers to “continue to make testing resources available to employees and students to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in all communities,” according to a statement from the California Department of Health Public Health.

“Vaccination and testing are two important measures that will help contain the spread of COVID-19, as is covering and improving indoor ventilation,” the statement continued.

Since the initial omicron surge subsided this spring, many efforts primarily focused on preventing transmission — such as mandatory covering and regular testing — have fallen by the wayside.

While the state still strongly recommends wearing masks in indoor public places, as of late last winter, the vast majority of Californians are no longer required to do so, except in select locations such as health care facilities, correctional facilities, and emergency or homeless shelters.

Officials routinely acknowledge that the public health response should change as conditions change. In LA County, for example, transmission has dropped to the point where officials could end local masking requirements on indoor public transit — including airport terminals, buses, subways, train stations, and ride-hailing services — within weeks.

That’s not to say the situation might not reverse, especially heading into fall and winter when another wave of coronavirus is a possibility.

But given the protection vaccines offer, as well as the availability of effective therapeutics and updated boosters, officials and experts say California has many tools to combat a possible resurgence.

“This is a hopeful moment in the COVID pandemic, with which [World Health Organization] noting that with continued attention to reducing risk and increasing immunization coverage, there is an opportunity to end the pandemic,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a recent briefing. “In LA County, the risk is lower than it was during much of the summer, and as we head into this fall with these updated booster doses, we know we have an opportunity to reduce the likelihood that our health care system will fail with another spike in the winter.” is overwhelmed.” California ends COVID test mandate for unvaccinated workers

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