Adventist Health Sonora ICU
Health care workers in the intensive care unit at the Adventist Health Sonora hospital in Sonora, including ICU nurse Adriana Chacon (left) and ICU telemonitor Samantha Neese (center) work in close quarters while other nurses, specialists, and hospital administrators attend to COVID-19 patients on ventilators, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

Adventist Health Sonora’s staff turnover rate remained “virtually the same” at Thursday’s deadline for California’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate on health care workers as it did before the first-in-the-nation order was announced on Aug. 5, hospital officials said.

Spokeswoman Jaquelyn Lugg said the hospital could not disclose the exact number of employees who were vaccinated, how many received religious or medical exemptions, or the specific turnover rates, but described the mandate’s impact as “almost nothing.”

“The effect is very, very small,” she said. “It’s good news because we’ll be able to continue providing patient care as much as we have been.”

Under the Aug. 5 order from the State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón, all of the state’s roughly 2.2 million health care workers were required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be approved for a religious or medical exemption by the end of Thursday.

The order effectively eliminated a previous option for health care workers to get tested for COVID-19 twice each week if they weren’t vaccinated.

There were early concerns that the mandate would exacerbate existing pandemic-fueled staffing shortages at hospitals throughout the state, though CalMatters reported this week that most major health care systems have said 90% or more of their workforces said they were in compliance.

Lugg said the hospital was expected to be 100% compliant with the state’s requirements by Friday morning.

Adventist Health Sonora, the only hospital in Tuolumne County to serve its nearly 55,000 residents, sent out an internal memo to all employees on Aug. 6 explaining how any who had not gotten fully vaccinated by 5 p.m. Thursday or formally applied for an exemption by 5 p.m. Sept. 8 would be removed from the work schedule and deemed to have voluntarily resigned.

“We also want to emphasize that every person on our staff, whether they have received the vaccine or an exemption, cares deeply for the safety and well-being of our patients,” Lugg said on Thursday.

All hospital associates who received an exemption would continue to undergo twice-weekly testing for COVID-19, Lugg said, adding that all associates — regardless of vaccination status — will also continue to take safety precautions that include using personal protective equipment, daily screening and hand hygiene.

The mandate was aimed at helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and boost vaccination rates, but also proved to be controversial among those who view such requirements as the government overstepping on what they argue should be personal medical decisions.

There were a number of protests against the mandate across the state after it was announced, including one organized by two nurses at Adventist Health Sonora on Aug. 16 and another on Sept. 18 that each drew about 200 to 300 people in support.

Lugg previously said days after the mandate was announced that roughly 90% of the hospital’s doctors had already received a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Several doctors and other hospital staff have also spoken out publicly in the past couple months about the dangers COVID-19 poses to unvaccinated people, who have consistently made up about 90% or more of deaths and severe cases that require hospitalization.

They have also spoken out to dispel false information being rampantly spread on social media and other platforms about the safety of the vaccines that have been blamed for contributing to hesitancy among some in the community.

The county’s COVID-19 vaccination rate was 51.1% among the total population and 57.3% among those 12 or older who were eligible to get the jab as of Thursday afternoon, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that’s updated daily.

California’s statewide vaccination rate among its total population was 59% and among those 12 or older was 69.1%, while the nationwide rates for the same were 55.6% and 65.1%.

Where the county lags the most is vaccinations among people 18 to 49, who were 36% fully vaccinated as of Thursday afternoon compared with 68% statewide. County children ages 12 through 17 were also 30.8% fully vaccinated, compared with 55.1% statewide.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 768-5175. 

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