Governor Gavin Newsom performs a rapid COVID-19 test on himself to demonstrate the easiness of the test at Native American Health Center in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Health care workers in California have until Feb. 1 to get a COVID-19 booster shot, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday at a news conference in Oakland.

Newsom spoke Wednesday morning at the Native American Health Center at 2950 International Blvd. where he announced three strategies to help protect residents from COVID-19.

The requirement that health care workers receive a booster shot was announced Tuesday and the governor made it formal Wednesday.

The other two strategies include providing COVID-19 tests for school children before they return to school from the holiday break and expanding the hours of COVID-19 testing sites.

“Two doses is great,” Newsom said. “The booster is a game-changer.”

“That third dose is needed,” he said.

The definition of health care workers includes nursing home staff and all staff in high-risk congregate settings.

Any health care worker who has not received a booster shot yet must get tested for COVID-19 twice weekly until they get a booster.

At the moment, Newsom doesn’t see the need to expand the requirement for boosters to other segments of the population. He said at this moment the state is focusing on children and the health care workforce.

Hopefully, the state will not have to consider requiring boosters for others, he said.

The booster mandate for health care workers is meant to curb a potential shortage of those workers and protect the hospital capacity in the state as the omicron variant becomes the dominant strain of the COVID-19 virus.

The state is buying 6 million COVID-19 tests so it can deliver one to two free COVID-19 tests for each student. The tests will be distributed at points of access to be determined, Newsom said.

“I don’t want to see our schools shut down,” the governor said.

The tests will be primarily rapid-results tests rather than tests that take a day or longer to register results, he said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said that nothing is more important for the state’s school children than safe schools as the state faces the omicron variant.

Because of the state’s vaccination efforts, just 32 schools in the state are shut down because of COVID-19, compared with 9,600 across the country, Newsom said.

To provide every resident with access to testing, the state is expanding the availability of antigen tests. Antigen tests are rapid COVID-19 tests that register results in about 15 minutes.

Those tests will be more available as the state increases the operating hours of state-sponsored, OptumServe testing sites that at capacity.

To emphasize the importance of testing, Newsom got tested Wednesday at the health care center in Oakland. He swabbed himself.

California has 31 percent of the nation’s COVID-19 testing sites or 6,288, the governor said. Over 90 percent of Californians live within 30 minutes of a testing site and 60 percent within 15 minutes of a site, he said.

A large union of health care workers offered their support for booster shots for everyone.

“As frontline healthcare workers, we are very concerned about the devastation the omicron variant could wreak on our state’s families and our ability as healthcare workers to deliver the care people need,” said Renee Saldana, spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, a union serving more than 100,000 health care workers.

“We are all in this together and one of the best Christmas gifts you can give health care workers this year is to do everything you can to slow the spread so our hospitals can keep up: Get boosted, wear your mask, get tested, and limit your exposure to others if you’re not feeling well,” Saldana said.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.