In a much-anticipated move, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) announced on September 13, 2022, that it is rescinding its August 11, 2021 order (the “Order”) and will no longer require public and private K-12 employers to verify the COVID-19 vaccination status of all workers, including employees and unpaid volunteers, and test unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated workers weekly. The Order will be officially rescinded effective September 17, 2022. CDPH’s announcement is available here, and a copy of the updated Order is available here.
With the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, it was anticipated that the weekly testing requirement would be rescinded imminently, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced on August 11, 2022, and August 24, 2022, that it would no longer be recommending routine screening and testing in K-12 settings. CDPH has now followed suit in rescinding the Order effective September 17, 2022. In making the announcement, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón stated that “[w]hile unvaccinated individuals remain at greatest risk of serious health consequences from COVID-19 infection, weekly testing of unvaccinated groups is no longer slowing the spread as it did earlier in the pandemic due to the more infectious Omicron variants.”
While the weekly testing of unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated employees is no longer required as of September 17, 2022, this action does not necessarily restrict K-12 school employers from continuing with weekly testing should they so choose. Indeed, many K-12 school employers may already have existing arrangements with their respective labor groups that encourage, or even require, continued weekly testing. Moreover, the Order does not impact local county health jurisdictions which may require weekly testing for unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated workers by order of local health officials. K-12 school employers are encouraged to consult with legal counsel and/or local health officials to determine if they are required to continue weekly testing despite the rescission of CDPH’s Order. Rescission of the CDPH Order also may impact employer responses to employee requests for exemption from employer-established vaccination requirements for employees, including exemption requests based on medical or religious reasons. Consultation with legal counsel is advised.
Although state-mandated weekly testing for K-12 employers is coming to an end, CDPH has noted that “employers and schools are encouraged to continue providing testing resources to staff and students to slow the spread of COVID-19 in all communities. Vaccination and testing are two key measures that help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as is masking and improving indoor ventilation.” If you have any questions concerning CDPH’s Order coming to an end, please contact the authors of this alert or your legal counsel at Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.