SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Citing the growing outbreak of the highly contagious omicron variant throughout the country and in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom took to social media to announce that health care workers in the state will now be required to get COVID booster shots.

In a Twitter video post, Newsom said he was taking the action to make sure there were enough healthy medical workers to handle a possible post-holiday surge in new cases.

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“We are all seeing the news and heard what President Biden said today about what’s happening across the country, what’s happening around the rest of the world with the omicron variant,” the governor said. “It’s not dissimilar to what’s happening here in the state of California. As a consequence, we’re stepping up our efforts to get people vaccinated but also get people boosted. That’s why today we’re moving forward to require all health care workers to be boosted — get that third shot or at least the second shot if they got the J&J.”

By February 1, health care workers and all employees in high-risk congregate settings, including nursing homes, will be required to get their booster. In the interim, all health care staff that have not received their booster must test for COVID-19 twice weekly until they are up to date on their vaccines.

The booster mandate was part of the three-prong plan rolled out at a Wednesday morning news conference to address the latest surge of infections.

Raw Video: Gov. Newsom Announces Mandatory COVID Booster Shots for Health Care Workers

The other two parts of the plan were designed to keep schools open and students in the classroom:

  • Expanding testing access and getting 1-2 rapid tests for every public school student as kids head back to school
  • Increasing the testing hours for state-operated sites to expand capacity

In early December, the California Department of Public Health distributed approximately 2 million tests to schools so students can be tested as they return to school from winter break.

“The state is also redoubling our efforts to keep kids safe and keep schools open,” the governor said. “We will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities by making at-home testing kits available to every K-12 public school student as they head back to the classroom from winter break.”

Newson said there were now 191 confirmed cases of the omicron variant in California and those numbers were accelerating.

“We’re holding strong (in regards to the overall number of new COVID cases), but we can’t take anything for granted,” the governor said.

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California already requires health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a directive that took effect in September and has since led to the firing or suspension of thousands of people. Now it will join New Mexico as at least the second state to require booster shots for health care workers.

Last week, Newsom, who imposed the first statewide shutdown order in March 2020, warned that cases would likely rise and re-imposed a rule requiring everyone to wear masks at public indoor gatherings.

Concerns stem from the rise of omicron, which as of Monday was the dominant variant of the coronavirus in the United States. Areas in the Midwest and Northeast are seeing the biggest jump in cases and hospitalizations amid frigid temperatures that have kept people indoors.

Much about the variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say omicron spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, including delta. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a third shot for the best chance at preventing infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

California has so far fared far better than many other states. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists California as a place with “high” transmission of the virus, along with nearly everywhere else in the country. But in the last week California averaged 114 new cases per 100,000 people, less than half the national rate.

While 70% of Californians have been fully vaccinated, that still leaves 30% — or roughly 12 million people — who haven’t been. The California Department of Public Health says people who are not vaccinated are seven times more likely to get infected, nearly 13 times more likely to be hospitalized, and nearly 16 times more likely to die from the coronavirus.

Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have been rising slowly in California, up 15% in the last 11 days to 3,852. That’s less than half as many as during the late summer peak and one-fifth of a year ago before vaccines were widely available.

But while hospitals overall have fewer patients than last winter, many have fewer workers to treat the patients they do have. The staffing shortage comes as businesses are having trouble finding workers, including hospitals.

A recent study by the University of California-San Francisco estimated the state’s nursing shortage could persist until 2026.

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