Local health officials react to new vaccine policy for California health care workers

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- New health orders were issued by the California Department of Public Health Thursday. All health care workers across California must be vaccinated by September 30.

Exemptions are allowed based on religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons.

However, those with a qualifying medical reason must have a doctor's note to prove it.

Those who are exempt will be required to be tested up to twice a week and wear a surgical grade mask at all times.

RELATED: California to require health care workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 30 under new order

Local health officials are responding to the announcement.

Community Health System Senior Vice President Doctor Tom Utecht sent a statement saying they understand the need for the mandate and have encouraged all of their team members to get vaccinated, saying in part, "Community Health System will continue to follow the guidance from California Department of Public Health, Fresno County Department of Public Health and CDC on COVID-19 safety protocols, including healthcare worker vaccinations. "
But for Kaweah Health in Tulare County, this does not come as welcome news.

"We have cause for great concern, frankly," says Kaweah Health CEO Gary Herbst.

The health care organization decided against mandating vaccines -- fearing they'd lose health care workers.

Of their approximately 700 medical staff, 57 percent are vaccinated. Now, they're worried they could lose the other 43 percent.

"There are many health care workers that do not want to be vaccinated and my greatest fear now is that they will leave," Herbst said. "They will either leave the profession altogether, or they will leave the state of California and go to a nearby state."

Now, Kaweah Health is in a hurry to find out what those workers are thinking about doing. They're also turning their attention to their visitor policy.

In a second order by the CDPH, visitors at health care facilities will be required to show proof of vaccination or prove they've tested negative for COVID-19 within the 72 hours prior to their visit.

All facilities must implement this visitor policy starting Wednesday, August 11.
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