California issued an order on Thursday requiring all healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the Delta variant continues to spike in the state.

The new mandate comes after a previous state announcement that healthcare workers would have the option of choosing to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID testing. But with the new order, COVID vaccinations are now required with exceptions only allowed for medical or religious reasons.

In a statement, Dr. Tomas J. Aragon, California Department of Public Health director and state public health officer, said, “As we continue to see an increase in cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, it’s important that we protect the vulnerable patients in these settings.

“Today’s action will also ensure that health care workers themselves are protected. Vaccines are how we end this pandemic,” he added.

Currently, 63% of Californians ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 10% partially vaccinated, according to the CDPH. The state is also seeing 18.3 new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day, with case rates increasing ninefold within two months, the agency said.

Going forward, healthcare workers will be required to be fully vaccinated or have their second dose of the shot by Sept. 30. The mandate applies to workers in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and doctors’ offices, dialysis centers, hospice facilities, and most other healthcare facilities.

Those workers that do have a religious or medical exemption will be required to get tested once a week in acute and long-term care settings and once a week in other healthcare facilities.

With the COVID vaccine mandate, California becomes the first state to issue such an order for healthcare workers. There are about 2 million healthcare employees in the state.

The order also requires hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and intermediate care facilities to verify that visitors are vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test result from the past 72 hours. Visitors for patients in critical care or close to death situations are exempt from vaccination and testing requirements.

The world's leading Covid vaccine makers pledged around 3.5 billion vaccine doses for poorer nations
The world's leading Covid vaccine makers pledged around 3.5 billion vaccine doses for poorer nations AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU