San Diego County announced this week that it will require its employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular tests.
The new policy will take effect in mid-August, according to the agency. The county employs 18,000 people, making it the fifth-largest employer in the region, according to the last financial report.
“Vaccination is the key to the complete and safe reopening of the economy,” the county said in a tweet posted Thursday night.
The county, which is still working out the details of the new policy, has not specified how often unvaccinated employees will need to be tested. The organization has also not said how it will check the vaccination status of employees, although it could do so using the digital vaccination verification system the state launched in June or by checking the region’s immunization registry, which the county manages.
The announcement comes after local officials have spent months encouraging San Diegans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. However, although 2 million residents have been fully immunized, cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again. A month ago, daily cases were around 100 new infections; now the norm is 700 or more cases a day. And the number of San Diegans hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than tripled, from about 70 to 90 in late June to 269 in the county’s latest coronavirus update.
Infectious disease experts point to the delta variant of the coronavirus as the main reason for this rapid increase. This viral strain, first identified in India, is likely responsible for about 80 percent of new cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of those cases have occurred among those who are not fully vaccinated.
The CDC announced Tuesday that it is now asking all Americans, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear masks in closed public spaces if they live in an area where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly. That same day, the county issued its own recommendation that San Diegans follow the new CDC guidelines.
But the county is not requiring indoor masking for everyone, unlike Los Angeles County, simply recommending it. And for now, the county’s policy among its own employees is the same as its public orientation, requiring only indoor masking for those who are not fully vaccinated.
With the rapid rise in cases across the country, state and federal officials are also taking more aggressive steps to slow the spread of the virus. On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California health workers and employees should be vaccinated or tested regularly. And President Joe Biden made a similar announcement to federal employees Thursday, adding that the military will study the possibility of requiring vaccination against the coronavirus.