In what officials characterized as the first requirement of its kind in the nation, California ordered Thursday that healthcare workers statewide must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 come early fall.

The new mandate applies to employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, doctor’s offices, hospice facilities, dialysis centers and most other healthcare settings, and stipulates that they complete their inoculation regimen by Sept. 30.

“As we continue to see an increase in cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, it’s important that we protect the vulnerable patients in these settings,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, state public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “Today’s action will also ensure that healthcare workers themselves are protected. Vaccines are how we end this pandemic.”

The state also ordered that hospitals, skilled nursing centers and intermediate care facilities must verify that visitors indoors are either fully vaccinated or have tested negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival.

It was just last week that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California healthcare employees would soon either have to show proof of their vaccination status or be subjected to regular testing.

Thursday’s order largely removes the testing option and allows only limited religious or medical exemptions from the vaccine requirement.

Employees who are exempted would have to be tested regularly — twice a week if they work in acute or long-term care facilities and once a week in other healthcare settings.

Unvaccinated employees would also have to wear a surgical mask or respirator, such as an N95, while inside a facility.

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