SLO County health officer issues vaccine, mask mandate

September 30, 2023

Covid vaccine (Photo/iStock)


San Luis Obispo County’s health officer issued a vaccine and mask mandate on Sept. 21 that requires all healthcare workers to get yearly vaccines or wear a mask at work.

Instead of taking guidance from the state, SLO County Health Officer Penny Borenstein created her own mandate under Health and Safety Code 120175. Borenstien is requiring every healthcare worker in the county to get yearly COVID and flu vaccines or wear a mask at work for six months of the year.

Code section 120175 allows county health officers to take measures to stop the spread of a communicable disease within their county.

Instead of issuing a temporary mandate because of an increase in flu or COVID cases, Borenstein issued a permanent mandate based on the seasonal increases in COVID and flu cases. The county is now requiring healthcare workers to get yearly vaccines or wear masks at work from Nov. 1 through April 30 every year.

SLO County Health Department Director Dr. Penny Borenstein

During the past three years, the number of COVID cases in SLO County have increased during the months of August and January while decreasing year over year, according to California’s COVID dashboard. During Aug. 2021, the county saw a weekly average high of 7.3 new daily COVID hospital admissions, numbers that fell to 4.7 in 2022 and 2.1 in 2023.

Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted California’s indoor mask mandate on March 1, 2022, and ended the mask mandate for healthcare workers and facilities on April 3, 2023. A handful of California counties have recently reenacted mask mandates because of a surge in COVID cases.

One of the nation’s most restrictive mandates is in Santa Clara County, which issued a mask order earlier this year that requires healthcare workers and visitors to healthcare facilities to wear masks yearly from late fall through spring, unless exempt because of age or health issues.

During the pandemic, multiple healthcare workers, including office staff, elected to stay home rather than abide by mask and vaccine mandates. SLO County continues to suffer the impacts of a shortage of healthcare workers.

Because of the current healthcare worker shortage, many residents have to wait months, and in some cases more than a year, to see specialists or retain new primary care doctors.

A local surgeon and a registered nurse said they are looking for positions outside the county because of Borenstein’s latest mandate. (They asked not be named as they have not yet informed the hospital where they work.) Medical workers and research studies do not agree on the safety of COVID vaccines and the effectiveness of masks.

In March 2020, the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted for a county health emergency that granted the county administrator and Borenstein authority to manage the COVID crisis. Several supervisors later regretted the vote after former Administrator Wade Horton and Borenstein initially refused to follow board direction or relinquish power back to the board.

Under pressure from the board majority, which was considering terminating Borenstein because of her alleged heavy-handed actions, in 2022 Horton and Borenstein agreed to relinquish the health emergency powers back to the board of supervisors.

“While these declarations are no longer needed, the public health team and local health care providers continue to respond to this pandemic and provide resources, like vaccines and testing, to help residents protect their health and the health of the community,” Borenstein said in Feb. 2022. “We remain ready to respond to future surges.”

Prior to the pandemic, county officials had been scrutinizing Borenstein’s handling of several health issues and her ability to oversee the health department.

While several SLO County supervisors have spoken out against restrictive mandates, with a shift in the board majority, it is possible the board will support Borenstein’s vaccine and mask mandate.

SLO County supervisors John Peschong and Debiie Arnold plan to ask the board to agendize a discussion of Borenstein’s new mandate at its next meeting on Oct. 17.


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call me old-fashioned, but I am kinda partial to vaccines that actually stop or at least slow the spread of an infection…

The same chaos ensued back in the 90s when healthcare started mandating the flu shot. People freaked out and then it simmered down. It is a part of working in healthcare, schools, prisons, and other heavily populated professions.

kayaknut, If it was me, would get the covid and flu shots and move on. Maybe one at a time over a period of a week. Why waste time on some silly paranoia? No biggie.

As of 9/28/2023, 654.77 billion Pfizer/BioTech doses have been administered worldwide and 155.1 million of Moderna.