California officials quietly released an amendment to an Aug. 5 order requiring all workers who provide services or are employed in health care facilities to be vaccinated. The mandate now includes visitors to indoor health care facilities.
Released on Aug. 26, the amended public health order states that facilities must verify that visitors are fully vaccinated or have had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours for unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated visitors.
Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks also announced this week that she would hold back her proposed vaccine verification bill, AB 455, from moving forward in the State Legislature until 2022.
Originally a transportation bill meant to address the San Francisco Bay Bridge Corridor, AB 455 was thoroughly amended to become a bill requiring employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or weekly testing of employees, prior to its removal by Wicks for consideration next year.
The new state health care mandate applies to visitors of general acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, and adult and senior care residential facilities licensed by the California Department of Social Services. The conditions don’t apply to visitors of outdoor-only visits that don’t require entering the facility.
While the amended order was released to the public on Aug. 26, the order states that it took effect as of Aug. 11, with an exception for adult and senior care residential facilities, which must be in full compliance by Sept. 9.
Some health care workers say the vaccine mandate could have a profound effect on those who have chosen not to be vaccinated due to personal, medical, or religious reasons.
The new order reads “unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitors are eligible for indoor visits only if they can show documentation of a negative SARS-CoV-2 test where the specimen collection occurred within 72 hours before each visit and for which the test results are available at the time of entry to the facility.”
Additionally, it says “unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated visitors with a history of COVID-19 within the prior 90 days may provide documentation of recovery from COVID-19 and release from isolation in lieu of testing.”
The order allows visitors to test with either a PCR or antigen test that has emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or be operating per the laboratory-developed test requirements by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Exceptions include visitors who are visiting a patient in critical condition, when death may be imminent, or where “emergent situations” are in place, such as a parent or guardian of pediatric patients, a support person for labor and delivery patients, support persons for a patient with physical, intellectual, developmental disability or cognitive impairment, or a person visiting for bonding visits, including in-room stay with a newborn or hospitalized parent.
For visitors in these categories to return for subsequent visits following such emergent situations, the order states that visitors will be required “as soon as reasonably possible thereafter, but no longer than 72 hours, to provide vaccine verification or applicable testing requirements” in order to return for indoor visitation.
The new mandate further states that all visitors, regardless of vaccination status or test result, must wear a surgical mask or double mask upon entering and at all times while in the facility.
Visitors are also required to don personal protective equipment (PPE) while in the patient’s or resident’s room deemed appropriate to the situation by staff, and all visitors must maintain physical distance from personnel, other patients, residents, and other visitors that are not part of their group at all times.
The only acceptable modes of proof of vaccination include the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or original WHO Yellow Cards issued by the World Health Organization International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis to individuals who received their COVID-19 vaccine in a foreign country. The cards must include the name of the vaccinated person, type of vaccine provided, and the date of the last dose administered.
Visitors can also provide a photo of a Vaccination Record Card as a separate document on a phone or electronic device, documentation of COVID-19 vaccination from a health care provider, or a digital record that includes a QR code when scanned by a SMART Health Card reader that displays the client’s name, date of birth, vaccine dates, and vaccine type.
The order states that the facility may accept any of those documents as valid “in the absence of knowledge to the contrary.”