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California urges weekly COVID-19 testing for hospital workers

By Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — After months of rallies, protests and pleas by health care workers for better coronavirus protection, California has unveiled some of the nation's strongest COVID-19 testing guidelines for hospital personnel, many of whom are bracing for a post-Thanksgiving virus surge.

The guidelines, announced in an all-facilities letter from the California Department of Public Health, stipulate that all workers at general acute-care hospitals — the kind most people go to for short-term care — be tested weekly for the coronavirus. Tests must also be administered to all newly admitted patients.

"It's a huge victory that will save lives," said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents more than 15,000 health care workers in California and helped lobby for the change.

Before the policy update, the state had no formal testing requirements for health care workers, Rosselli said. The introduction of weekly testing, which benefits both patients and workers, was long overdue.

"Sports players and their teams are tested every day to keep them safe," Rosselli said, "and elite colleges are testing their entire student bodies and faculties every week to minimize COVID infection. But hospital workers who take care of people with COVID couldn't get tested."

Under the guidelines outlined in the letter, dated Nov. 25, hospitals will have until Dec. 7 to submit a formal, facilitywide testing plan to their local licensing authority. Weekly test procedures for all health care workers must be in place by Dec. 14.

 

Hospitals must also outline policies and procedures for explaining and tracking results, and for using those results to implement greater infection control measures.

The guidelines are similar to those authorized for California nursing homes earlier this year, which contributed to a decrease in coronavirus cases and deaths at those facilities, Rosselli said.

They arrive as California is experiencing a record number of hospitalizations: There were 7,415 COVID-19 patients in the state's hospitals on Saturday, surpassing the previous high of 7,170 set in July.

In a media briefing Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said projections for hospitalization numbers are grim.

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