First in the Nation: California mandates a new weekly COVID-19 testing requirement for ALL hospital healthcare workers

COVID-19November 30, 2020

“Governor Newsom deserves credit for recognizing the urgency of the problem and taking decisive action.” – Sal Rosselli, National Union of Healthcare Workers President

Across the country, healthcare workers fear that Thanksgiving 2020 will be remembered as a ticking time bomb during which millions of social gatherings led to an explosion of coronavirus cases. But for California healthcare workers, the holiday also will have marked the moment when the California Department of Public Health created a sweeping new mandate that requires weekly COVID-19 testing for workers at acute care hospitals. The mandate further stipulates that COVID-19 tests be administered to all newly admitted patients at those same facilities and to workers who are symptomatic.

The new requirements, announced over the holiday, are the strongest in the nation for testing healthcare workers. They mark the largest expansion in California’s testing rules since May, when the state mandated regular testing of workers inside nursing homes.

“These new regulations will save lives, dramatically reduce the risk of further outbreaks inside hospitals and help ensure that there are enough healthcare workers to care for patients during the worsening surge,” said National Union of Healthcare Workers President Sal Rosselli.

The emphasis at the federal level has been on finding a vaccine, Rosselli pointed out, not on making testing more widely available.

“But we can’t just sit on our hands and wait for a vaccine as COVID-19 cases continue to soar and hospitals fill up,” Rosselli said. “Governor Newsom deserves credit for recognizing the urgency of the problem and taking decisive action to finally make hospitals test all workers and patients upon admission.”

Under the new regulations set forth by the California Department of Public Health, acute care hospitals will be required to:

  • Begin testing workers deemed to be at especially high-risk of contracting COVID-19, such as emergency room caregivers, by the week of Dec. 7.
  • Start weekly testing of all workers including nurses, nursing assistants and medical technicians as well as workers who don’t provide direct patient care but could still be exposed to the virus, such as housekeepers, food service workers and clerical workers, by Dec. 14. Hospitals are required to submit their plans to achieve full-scale, weekly testing by Dec. 7.
  • Immediately test workers with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Test all newly admitted patients for COVID-19.

The new regulations are similar to what the state authorized for nursing homes earlier this year and reflect recommendations NUHW submitted to state officials for consideration.

For months, NUHW members across California have been protesting the lack of available testing for themselves and their patients and staging rallies demanding that their employers ramp up testing.

Last week, workers gathered outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital in Orange County to demand access to COVID-19 tests after a colleague died from exposure to the virus. Like most hospitals in California, Fountain Valley has refused to test all newly admitted patients, provide regular testing of caregivers or test caregivers following an exposure.

“This is a huge victory that will make everyone safer inside California hospitals,” said Josh Jesus, a radiology technologist at Fountain Valley.

“It was hard not to be demoralized when professional athletes were getting tested every day by their employers but caregivers treating COVID-19 patients couldn’t get tested at all,” he said.

News media reported that there were 7,415 COVID-19 patients in California hospitals on November 28, according to state figures, a record for COVID-19 hospitalizations and surpassing the previous high of 7,170, back in July. By comparison, one month earlier, on Oct. 28, there were 2,400 COVID-19 patients in the state’s acute care hospitals. Nationwide, approximately 95,000 people are hospitalized with the disease, according to remarks made over the weekend by Adm. Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services. This accounts for 20 percent of those who are currently hospitalized in the United States.

“It’s unconscionable that multibillion-dollar hospital corporations had to be forced to test their workers and patients for a virus that has already killed 225,000 people in the United States,” Rosselli said. “This is a critical step forward in California and a model for the nation but we still need to expand testing requirements to caregivers in home health settings and in correctional facilities where outbreaks continue unabated.”

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led movement representing more than 15,000 healthcare workers in California.

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