While the risk is lower, public spaces like the gym still increase exposure to unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks, maintain distance and wash their hands frequently in these spaces. (Getty Images via Tribune News Service)

While the risk is lower, public spaces like the gym still increase exposure to unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks, maintain distance and wash their hands frequently in these spaces. (Getty Images via Tribune News Service)

Transit workers, homeless residents now prioritized for COVID vaccines in California

California is making more essential workers, as well as homeless residents and those living in congregate setting such as prisons, eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

The state has further defined who is considered to be working in the emergency services sector, explicitly allowing utility and social workers to be eligible for the vaccine. Public transit workers, such as bus drivers and those working in airports, are also now eligible.

“They are at high risk for occupational exposure, and maintaining continuity of transportation operations is critical,” California’s Department of Public Health said in its bulletin sent to local health departments Thursday.

Those who live or work in a “high risk congregate residential setting” are also eligible to receive the vaccine. Those settings include prisons, immigrant detention facilities, homeless shelters or behavioral health facilities, CDPH said in the bulletin.

Those who are experiencing homelessness, who may transition into congregate settings at short notice, are also eligible for the vaccine.

The update comes as California is further opening up the number of residents eligible for the vaccine. The state on March 15 will allow those aged 16 to 64 with certain preexisting conditions or disabilities to get the vaccine. The update also comes as President Joe Biden has said all adults in the U.S. will eligible for the vaccine by May 1.

California had originally prioritized those essential workers as well as those in prisons and homeless shelters. But those groups were dropped from the state’s plans in late January as the state said it was moving to an age-based system. Some counties such as Santa Clara had already begun to vaccinate those in prisons and homeless shelters, saying the risk of transmission is high for those residents.

CDPH’s bulletin could lead more counties to follow.

Public transit agencies, who have pushed the state to prioritize their workers for vaccination, celebrated the update.

“We thank the state’s public health officials for this renewed commitment to protecting transit workers,” California Transit Association Executive Director Michael Pimentel said in a statement. “(The) announcement ensures that these workers will soon be protected, and further improves the safety of transit trips as California continues working toward a equitable and safe reopening of our economy.”

Jeong Park, The Sacramento Bee

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