California appears to have settled on a new strategy to combat COVID-19: Instead of instituting lockdowns in response to the omicron variant, which has helped push the statewide testing positivity rate to nearly 16% and prompted a spike in hospitalizations, state and local leaders are mandating stronger safety measures to keep businesses and schools open. Some key examples:
- In a striking Dec. 22 statement, Newsom, education officials and labor leaders affirmed their commitment to “keep our classrooms open.” One prong of their plan: send rapid COVID tests to students before they return from winter break, though many districts resuming classes today have yet to receive them. Other districts are going further: Los Angeles County announced late Friday that it will mandate medical-grade masks for public and private school employees, face coverings in outdoor crowded spaces and tougher rules for athletes.
- In addition to mandating booster shots for health care workers, the state unveiled plans Friday to beef up vaccination and testing requirements for mega-event attendees and nursing home visitors. And on Thursday, the California Department of Public Health issued updated quarantine guidance that goes a step further than the CDC’s by allowing asymptomatic people to exit isolation only if they get a negative test result five days after testing positive.
- Several Bay Area counties previously exempted from following the state’s new indoor mask mandate in certain settings reversed course last week and are once again requiring face coverings in those locations.
But there’s one key exception when it comes to tougher COVID rules: prisons. Newsom’s administration is continuing to fight a federal judge’s order mandating vaccines for prison guards, saying increased testing is sufficient. But attorneys representing inmates contend that many prison workers are failing to get tested twice a week as required — and note that prisoners must be fully vaccinated by today if they want to have in-person or family visits.