By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced several new measures Wednesday to combat rising COVID-19 case rates associated with the omicron variant, unveiling a new vaccination requirement for health care workers and steps to ensure kids stay in the classroom after the holidays.
Gov. Newsom announced all healthcare workers across the state will be required to receive a COVID-19 booster shot by Feb. 1. This new requirement comes after California became the first state in the nation to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers, which required that all workers be vaccinated by Sept. 30 as a condition of employment.
With cases rising in the state, Gov. Newsom said Wednesday that mandating the booster will prevent staffing shortages and protect frontline workers as they continue to treat patients with COVID-19.
“We recognize now that just being fully vaccinated is not enough with this new variant,” Gov. Newsom said. “We believe it’s important to extend [the vaccine] requirement to getting that third dose, to getting boosted.”
Gov. Newsom also reiterated a commitment to keeping children in school, announcing the state will send out more than 6 million at-home tests to ensure each child is tested at least once before they return to school after winter break.
After receiving criticism for shuttering schools during last year’s winter surge, the governor said keeping kids in school remains a top priority heading into the new year.
“We believe that our most important agenda must be to continue our nation-leading efforts to keep our kids in school,” Gov. Newsom said. “Let there be no doubt – that is our commitment. That is our priority.”
The state has seen a 20% increase in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to data tracking from The New York Times. Gov. Newsom indicated Wednesday the highly transmissible omicron variant is likely the cause of rising case rates in the state, saying the state’s genome sequencing lab has identified “well north” of 50% of sequenced results showing the presence of the omicron variant.
The state has identified 191 individuals who tested positive for the omicron variant, according to Gov. Newsom, and officials expect that number to grow.
In anticipation of a rise in cases after the holiday season, Gov. Newsom said the state would work to extend hours of operation at state-run testing centers, particularly in places where there is high demand. He noted 90% of California residents — even in rural areas — have access to testing within 30 minutes of their homes, adding that available testing sites can be found on the state’s online MyTurn portal.
The state has administered more than 64 million vaccine doses and more than 116 million tests, according to the governor’s office. About 8.7 million Californians have received a booster dose.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.