State Public Health Officer Order of July 26, 2021
California Department of Public Health - July 26, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic remains a significant challenge in California. COVID-19 vaccines are effective in reducing infection and serious disease. At present, 62% of Californians 12 years of age and older are fully vaccinated with an additional 9% partially vaccinated. California is currently experiencing the fastest increase in COVID-19 cases during the entire pandemic with 11.2 new cases per 100,000 people per day, with case rates increasing fivefold within two months. The Delta variant, which is very highly contagious and possibly more virulent, is currently the most common variant causing new infections in California.

Unvaccinated persons are more likely to get infected and spread the virus, which is transmitted through the air. Most current hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated persons. Thanks to vaccinations and to measures taken since March 2020, California’s health care system is currently able to address the increase in cases and hospitalizations. However, additional statewide facility-directed measures are necessary to protect particularly vulnerable populations, and ensure a sufficient, consistent supply of workers in high-risk health care and congregate settings.

Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and the other health care facility types identified in this order are particularly high-risk settings where COVID-19 outbreaks can have severe consequences for vulnerable populations including hospitalization, severe illness, and death. Further, the congregate and residential settings in this order share several features. They all are residential facilities where the residents have little ability to control the persons with whom they interact. There is frequent exposure to staff and other residents. In many of these settings, the residents are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease due to underlying health conditions, advanced age, or both.

Vaccinations have been available in California from December 2020 to the present, and from January 1, 2021, to July 12, 2021, a total of 9,056 confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks and 110,734 outbreak-related cases were reported to CDPH. The two most common settings for these outbreaks were: Residential care facilities (22.7%) and SNFs (9.7%). There have been over 4,000 outbreaks in residential care facilities, over 2,000 outbreaks in SNFs, over 450 outbreaks in hospitals, over 200 outbreaks in correctional facilities, and over 450 outbreaks reported in shelters in California to date. We also noted increasing numbers of health care workers as new positive cases, despite vaccinations being prioritized for this group when vaccines initially became available. Recent outbreaks in health care, SNFs, and other congregate settings have frequently been traced to unvaccinated staff members.

Thus, current requirements of staff in health care settings, such as universal mask requirements for all staff, are not proving sufficient to prevent transmission of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible and may cause more severe illness. Vaccination against COVID-19 is the most effective means of preventing infection with the COVID-19 virus, and subsequent transmission and outbreaks. As we respond to the dramatic increase in cases, transmission prevention measures must be increased for the significant proportion of unvaccinated health and congregate care workers remaining to reduce the chance of transmission to vulnerable populations. Reinforcement of well-fitting facemasks for source control, emphasis on increased respiratory protection with respirators in some settings, and regular testing (when appropriately followed by isolation of individuals who test positive), should contribute to reduction of transmission risk in these high-risk settings to mitigate the absence of vaccination protection.

For these reasons, COVID-19 remains a concern to public health and, in order to prevent its further spread in hospitals, SNFs, high-risk congregate settings and other health care settings, limited and temporary public health requirements are necessary at this time.

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