California Department of Public Health on September 17 ended the COVID-19 testing mandate for unvaccinated health care workers and other individuals in high-risk settings, including dental offices.
Unvaccinated dentists and their staff have been in compliance with the state’s public health order requiring weekly vaccination or testing since full compliance began on August 23, 2021. Dental staff who did not provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 were asked to test weekly and submit evidence of a negative test to their employer.
Dental employers had tracking and documentation obligations as part of the state mandate. CDA members used resources during this time to assist in their compliance, including CDA self-certification of employee vaccination status, a weekly testing tracking form for employees, and forms for requesting and documenting vaccination exemptions.
Other high-risk health care settings that are no longer subject to weekly or biweekly testing requirements include, but are not limited to, physician offices, general acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, acute psychiatric and homeless shelters.
Although the state order has been lifted, some cities and counties continue to mandate weekly testing for COVID-19. Employers should follow the strictest mandate, whether federal, state or local, and should check with their local health department to ensure compliance.
Vaccine coverage ‘high among workers in high-risk settings’
of state notification Announcing the end of July 21, 2021, the public health order notes the high vaccination rate among workers in high-risk environments. CDA’s own survey conducted in May-June 2021 showed that 94% of dentists in California were vaccinated against COVID-19.
The different behavior of the omicron subvariants – mainly, their increased transmission even among vaccinated, adult and previously infected individuals – also influenced the CDPH’s decision to cancel the vaccine or test mandate.
“Mandated testing of small numbers of unvaccinated workers is not effectively preventing disease transmission as with the original COVID-19 virus and earlier variants earlier in the pandemic,” CDPH said. “Accordingly, 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 official wrote.
Employers are encouraged to continue promoting vaccination, testing
As 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 internal ventilation.”
Dentists can continue to use the resources at CDA’s Vaccine Confidence Toolkit to administer rapid tests in their practice, manage employees, and discuss vaccine safety and efficacy with their patients. Just last week, with the help of a CDPH grant, CDA released new infographics, vaccination talking points, sample social media posts and other resources specifically for use in dental offices.
Additionally, dentists and other employers in California can still choose to mandate that their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19. Member dentists can use CDA’s sample vaccination policy, which includes guidance and considerations for employers, including the circumstances under 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 health care settings in California, must continue to wear face masks and employers must provide properly fitted respirators to the staff involved in aerosol generation 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.
EVERYONE has FAQ on masking and screening requirements and an article with detailed information about the sequel reporting and return to work requirements under the current interim Cal/OSHA COVID-19 emergency standards ending December 31st.