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Fearing a big COVID surge, California reinstates rules for private workplaces — and the vaccinated

COVID hospitalizations have spiked 15% statewide in the last three weeks
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The more things change, the more things stay the same.

A little more than a year after the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in California, the state is bracing for yet another surge -- and piling back on protections.

On Wednesday, the day California's new indoor mask mandate went into effect, the state Department of Public Health quietly updated its online guidance to emphasize that the rules -- which are set to last through Jan. 15 -- apply to both public and private workplaces. Previously, the state had allowed most fully vaccinated workers to forgo masks.

Then the standards board of Cal/OSHA, the state's workplace safety agency, voted Thursday to, among other things, eliminate some distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. Under the new temporary COVID workplace rules -- which are slated to last from Jan. 14 to April 14 -- workers exposed to someone who's tested positive for the virus must quarantine for two weeks (though asymptomatic vaccinated employees will have the option to wear masks and social distance), and companies must make free COVID tests available to them at work.

But labor advocates say the changes will help protect workers: "Unfortunately, vaccination is not immunity, and vaccination doesn't mean you can't spread the disease," Stephen Knight, executive director of Worksafe, told Grace.

Indeed, California health officials are bracing for what Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's public health officer, called a "deluge of omicron." COVID hospitalizations have spiked 15% statewide in the last three weeks, from 3,439 patients on Nov. 23 to 3,971 on Wednesday, according to state data. And, as more COVID cases are confirmed across the state and uncertainty continues to swirl around the omicron variant, cancellations are pouring in.

The coronavirus bottom line:

As of Wednesday, California had 4,901,895 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 74,879 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 61,992,176 vaccine doses, and 69.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated. 

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