With the delta variant surging, a growing number of employers are tiring of merely cajoling workers to get vaccinated against covid-19 and are following President Joe Biden’s protocol for federal workers: Either show proof of vaccination or mask up and get regular testing if you want to work on-site.
The federal government — the nation’s largest employer — will require unvaccinated employees to wear masks while working, get regular testing and take other precautions, like maintaining physical distance from co-workers and restricting work travel. Several states, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, also say unvaccinated state workers must get regular tests.
On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom broadly extended such a mandate to teachers and all school employees, the first state to do so.
Those programs, with their testing alternative, differ from outright mandates to get vaccinated, as some health care organizations — including the health care workforce of the Department of Health and Human Services, hospitals, and the U.S. military — are requiring.
Employers, fearing a backlash, frame the policy as a choice, with both sides of the equation seen as effective in reducing the spread of covid. Do public health experts think this approach will help?
All agreed the best solution is universal vaccination. Short of that, many said, the moves by employers will add a layer of protection — although how much remains to be seen.
Test results are “really only a snapshot in time,” said Dr. Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. Even testing every day, as was the standard in the Trump White House — without other measures like masking — didn’t prevent staffers from falling ill last fall.
And daily testing is cumbersome and costly.
This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.