In summary

It is imperative that California update its requirements related to COVID-19 for employers and move forward on employer vaccination requirements.

By Jeffrey D. Klausner, Special to CalMatters

Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner is a clinical professor of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a research scientist at the USC COVID-19 Pandemic Research Center, jklausne@usc.edu.

On Nov. 30, more than six months into the pandemic, California approved new standards to protect employees from COVID-19. Those standards include the implementation of a site-specific COVID-19 Prevention Program and the provision of face coverings. 

The standards also require the provision of testing to exposed individuals and public notification of worksite-related outbreaks. Furthermore, employers are required to maintain records and report serious illnesses and deaths.

On Jan. 19, 2021, six weeks later, the Department of Industrial Relations posted a letter to California employers notifying them of those requirements. As a small-business owner, I received a letter more recently dated Feb. 16.

Currently the COVID-19 pandemic in California is on the decline likely due to a combination of increasing core population immunity due to the recent massive surge in December and January and the introduction of vaccinations.

To assure a continued decline and prevent further surges it is critical to make sure that people at continued risk of infection get vaccinated.

We have good evidence that those at the highest risk of infection are essential workers, hourly-wage earners and those who work in crowded indoor settings. Work-place based interventions could have a substantial impact at protecting those workers. Cal/OSHA has a responsibility to protect those workers and assure a safe working environment.

One way to assure vaccination is to require employers to promote and provide access to vaccination through educational programs, paid time-off for vaccination appointments and partnerships with local health departments or commercial groups providing vaccinations.

Another way would be to require vaccination, or evidence of immunity, of employees. Vaccination requirements are not without controversy. Prior efforts to strengthen school-based vaccination requirements resulted in serious vocal and potentially criminal activity from a small minority of Californians.

Vaccination requirements, however, are a highly effective health policy tool that can lead to direct reductions in disease and mortality in a population. The lack of vaccination requirements for cancer-preventing vaccines for example allows for the continued high-frequency of cancer and cancer-related deaths in California.

It is imperative that California update its requirements related to COVID-19 for employers, urgently. COVID-19 vaccination must be added to those requirements. We cannot wait six or more months for those new rules nor wait months for their communication. California must work faster and more effectively.

The governor retains emergency powers to respond to the pandemic. While many have argued those powers should be curtailed, he can use them today to move forward on employer vaccination requirements. I urge him to do so.

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Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner has also written that California was right to reopen playgrounds for children; the Legislature needs an emergency hearing on vaccines; and in June that is was It’s time to end the state of emergency over COVID-19 in June; and in April that it was time to reconsider California’s ‘shelter-at-home’ policy.

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