Will hospitals ignore California’s new COVID testing requirement?

December 7th, 2020

California’s first-in-the-nation weekly COVID testing requirement for hospital workers starts this week

Despite a staffing crisis and surging caseloads will hospitals ignore it?

Amid a surge that threatens to overwhelm California’s chronically understaffed hospitals, state health officials are launching the nation’s most rigorous COVID-19 testing regimen for hospital workers. Beginning today, Dec. 7, hospitals are required to begin weekly testing for workers who provide direct care to patients admitted for the coronavirus. Today also marks the deadline for hospitals to submit their plans for providing weekly testing for all hospital workers.

Next week, beginning Dec. 14, and going forward, as the next step in the state’s beefed-up testing protocols, patients admitted to acute care hospitals across the state will be tested for the virus.

A similar testing requirement instituted in May for California nursing homes has helped reduce COVID-19 outbreaks, yet several hospitals have indicated to the National Union of Healthcare Workers that they may not comply with the state mandate and view the new rules as merely a recommendation they don’t need to follow.

“We have ample evidence from nursing homes, professional sports leagues and universities that frequent testing is critical for limiting the spread of COVID-19,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It’s unconscionable that multi-billion-dollar hospital chains amid a devastating surge in coronavirus cases would ignore a state order intended to protect the health of hospital workers and patients.”

Throughout the pandemic, hospital workers in California have been routinely denied COVID-19 tests even when they have been exposed or symptomatic. Many exposures have resulted from hospitals refusing to test patients, who later turn out to be infected.

NUHW drafted a mandatory testing proposal earlier this year and its members had held several protests demanding access to more testing. Responding to the concerns of healthcare workers, the California Department of Public Health late last month issued an order that goes into partial effect today, requiring that hospitals:

  • Test all workers weekly for COVID-19 beginning Dec. 14, with weekly testing beginning this week for workers at higher risk of contracting the virus.
  • Provide state officials with their plan to provide weekly testing to all workers, including housekeepers, administrative clerks and food service workers, by today, Dec. 7.
  • Immediately test all workers with symptoms.
  • Test all patients upon admission beginning on Dec. 14.

So far only a few hospitals have informed NUHW that they plan to comply with the new state testing requirements. Several hospitals have said they will submit their compliance plan to the state by today’s deadline, but would not commit to following the new rules.

As hospitals threaten to ignore the testing requirements, COVID-19 patients are filling up beds at an alarming rate. As of Wednesday, 8,831 Californians were hospitalized with confirmed cases — an all-time high and nearly double the number seen two weeks ago, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Caregivers are exhausted and fearful of what the next few weeks will bring,” Rosselli said. “They don’t want to be called heroes, they want to be tested. If the NFL can test its players every day to protect their health, hospitals should be able to test their workers every week. And if they refuse, they should be harshly punished for ignoring a state order.”

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