SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced that healthcare workers across the state will be required to get their booster shot.
This comes as the state sees a continued uptick in infections brought on by the arrival of the omicron variant.
"With Omicron on the rise, we’re taking immediate actions to protect Californians and ensure our hospitals are prepared," Newsom said in a tweet.
But experts say the nation’s most populous state is likely to avoid the worst scenario — spikes in hospitalizations and deaths — because most Californians have either been vaccinated or already been infected. That gives the state a higher level or protection against the omicron variant that, while not guaranteeing people won’t get sick, means they are less likely to need to go to the hospital.
"It’s a highly transmissible respiratory virus and people are going to get it. And they are going to get it every winter," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco. "We have to go toward measuring our true success with a disease, which is how we’re doing with hospitalizations."
California has fared far better than many other states so far, with areas in the Midwest and Northeast seeing the biggest surge in cases and hospitalizations amid frigid temperatures that have kept people indoors.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists California as a place with "high" transmission of the virus, along with nearly everywhere else in the country. But in the last week California averaged 114 new cases per 100,000 people, less than half of the national rate.
Meanwhile, coronavirus related hospitalizations have been rising slowly in California, up 9% in the last two weeks to 3,523. That’s less than half of what it was during the late summer peak fueled by the delta variant and one-fifth what it was a year ago, before vaccines were widely available.
But while hospitals overall have fewer patients than last winter, many have fewer workers to treat the patients they do have. The staffing shortage comes as businesses in general are having trouble finding workers, including hospitals. A recent study by the University of California-San Francisco estimated the state’s nursing shortage could persist until 2026.
"The staffing shortages we are experiencing are worse than ever," said Kiyomi Burchill, group vice president for policy for the California Hospital Association.
More than 70% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents have been fully vaccinated while 42% have gotten a booster shot.
But as of Monday a new variant, omicron, is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States.