Weekly COVID testing mandate expires for unvaccinated healthcare workers in California

The California Department of Public Health on Sept. 17 ended the COVID-19 testing mandate for unvaccinated health care workers and others in high-risk settings, which include dental offices.

Non-vaccinated dentists and their staff have been in compliance with the state public health order requiring vaccination or weekly testing since full compliance began on August 23, 2021. Dental staff who did not provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 were required to test weekly and submit proof of a negative test to their employer.

Employers of dentists had tracking and documentation obligations as part of the state mandate. CDA members used resources during this time to support their compliance, including CDA’s self-certification of employee vaccination status, a weekly employee test tracking form, and vaccination exemption request and documentation forms.

Other high-risk health care facilities that are no longer subject to the once- or twice-weekly testing requirement include, but are not limited to, physician offices, acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, acute care psychiatric facilities, and homeless shelters .

Although the state order was lifted, some cities and counties continue to mandate weekly testing for COVID-19. Employers must follow the stricter order, whether federal, state or local, and must consult with their local health department to ensure compliance.

Vaccine coverage ‘high among workers in high-risk settings’

The state news release announcing the end of the public health order on July 21, 2021, noted the high vaccination rate among workers in high-risk settings. CDA’s own survey conducted in May-June 2021 showed that 94% of California dentists were vaccinated against COVID-19.

The different behavior of the omicron subvariants—mainly their increased transmissibility even among vaccinated, boosted, and previously infected individuals—also influenced CDPH’s decision to lift the vaccination or testing mandate.

“Mandatory testing of the small number of unvaccinated workers does not effectively prevent disease transmission as it did with the original COVID-19 virus and previous variants earlier in the pandemic,” CDPH said. “Therefore, while COVID-19 remains with us, I am rescinding the state public health officer’s order of July 26, 2021, effective September 17, 2022,” the state public health officer wrote.

Employers are encouraged to continue to promote vaccination, testing

While the weekly testing requirements end, CDPH encourages employers to continue to provide testing resources to staff to slow the spread of COVID-19 in communities, noting that “vaccination and testing are two key measures that help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as masking and improving indoor ventilation.”

Dentists can continue to use the resources in the CDA Vaccine Confidence Toolkit to implement rapid tests in their practice, manage staff, and discuss vaccine safety and efficacy with their patients. Just last week, with the help of a grant from CDPH, CDA released new infographics, vaccination conversation topics, sample social media posts and other resources for use specifically in dental offices.

In addition, dentists and other employers in California can still choose to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Member dentists can use the CDA’s sample vaccination policy, which includes instructions and considerations for employers, including circumstances in which employees may be exempt from compliance.

Masking, screening, reporting requirements continue in dental offices

Dentists and their staff, as well as patients and visitors to dental offices and other healthcare facilities in California, must continue to wear face masks, and employers must provide properly fitted respirators to personnel involved in aerosol-generating procedures. Cal/OSHA requires the use of respirators during such procedures in both dental and medical settings.

Dental offices must also continue to screen patients for COVID-19 as required by Cal/OSHA.

CDA has an FAQ on masking and screening requirements and an article detailing continued reporting and return-to-work requirements under the current Cal/OSHA COVID-19 emergency standards, which expire on December 31st.

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