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Strict COVID vaccine bills could face uphill battle in California

Alameda County health workers prepare syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a distribution clinic at St. Rose hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021.
Anne Wernikoff
Alameda County health workers prepare syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a distribution clinic at St. Rose hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021.

Vaccine bills, including one to pull state funding from law agencies that oppose public health orders, are facing headwinds.

This week, California shifted — in a small but significant way — its approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective Monday, the state Department of Public Health stopped issuing weekday updates on coronavirus data, including test positivity, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations. It now publishes those numbers just two days a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Some counties have since followed suit with their local dashboards.

  • A spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health told me in an email: “We have learned over the course of this pandemic that it is more helpful to look at data trends over time and that public health recommendations should be based on consistent trends rather than day-over-day changes, which are impacted by various testing and reporting patterns over weekends and holidays.”
  • Last week, the state also lifted its vaccine mandate for indoor mega-events.

Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento on Wednesday postponed for the second time a key hearing on his controversial bill that would, among other things, withhold state funding from law enforcement agencies that oppose public health orders — a not-so-veiled warning for sheriff’s departments that refuse to enforce COVID mandates.

  • The bill is one of a handful introduced by a vaccine work group of Democratic legislators that, if enacted, would form the most aggressive state approach to vaccines in the nation.
  • Edwin Kirby, Pan’s communications director, told me in an email: “It is not unusual for members of the Legislature to reschedule hearings on their bills in order to continue to work with stakeholders. … The vaccine work group is working to advance legislation to protect Californians so that we can continue to have some of the lowest death and hospitalization rates per capita in the U.S. Polling shows Californians continue to support common sense requirements to protect public health and save lives.”
  • But last week, Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland tabled her proposal to force companies to require workers and independent contractors to be vaccinated against COVID, citing a “new and welcome chapter in the pandemic” and pushback from public safety unions.
  • Indeed, the vaccine bills — contentious in the best of times — could be even more difficult to push through the Legislature as California’s COVID picture improves. Five of the vaccine working group’s eight bills have yet to receive a hearing date, according to a tracker maintained by GOP Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, who opposes the proposals. 

But California’s COVID picture is far from static. Although the state on Monday reported a record-low 231 patients with COVID in the ICU, cases are beginning to rise again in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco counties, likely fueled by the contagious omicron subvariant BA.2.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.