SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Amid rising COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, officials in San Jose announced that all city employees would need to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, starting later this month.
According to a city statement posted Thursday, employees must submit proof of vaccination or negative test results weekly starting August 23.
“The City of San José has made these decisions with the health and safety of our employees and the public as our top priority,” officials said. “The new requirements reflect strong recommendations from healthcare experts and are in line with recent recommendations from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.”
San Jose has over 7,000 full and part-time employees, and many are now back on the job at City Hall and other city facilities like libraries and community centers, where they come face to face with the public.
“There is one safe route forward and that is through vaccination,” Mayor Sam Liccardo told KPIX 5. “We need everyone in the community to get vaccinated and we’re going to start right here, with our own team at the city.”
The policy could soon drop the testing option and require all employees, except those with a medical excuse, to be vaccinated as a blanket policy. And there could be penalties for those who don’t.
“For example, unpaid leave, which is likely to be the sanction,” Liccardo said.
The union representing most employees at City Hall says it mostly agrees with the city’s toughening stance on vaccinations.
“A majority of our union is supporting this,” said Steven Solorio, president of AFSCME Local 101. “They all want to have healthy work environments, especially as we interact more with the public.”
According to a voluntary survey of city employees, the San Jose Fire Department has the highest vaccination rate at 79.5%. Other citywide staff is at 72%.
Meanwhile, the San Jose Police Department only has a 58.2% vaccination rate.
The police union disputes the accuracy of the survey, but it is encouraging its members to be vaccinated.
In a statement to KPIX 5, SJPOA president Sean Pritchard said “While we understand the motivation to mandate all employees be vaccinated, there are a considerable number of issues that must be addressed prior to implementing any mandate.”
The union called on the city to sit down with employees for more discussions.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Santa Clara County, as the more contagious Delta variant spreads, largely among the unvaccinated. According to the county’s public health department, as of Wednesday the 7-day average case rate among the unvaccinated is 25.3 per 100,000, compared to 6.8 per 100,000 for those fully vaccinated.
“To protect those who are not yet eligible for vaccination, such as children, and people who are elderly or immunocompromised, we need everyone who can get a vaccine to do so now,” deputy health officer Dr. George Han said Wednesday.
San Jose joins the city of San Francisco in requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for city employees. A growing number of employers are toughening rules on unvaccinated employees, including the federal government, Google and Facebook.
The announcement also comes as the California Department of Public Health announced that all workers in healthcare settings must be fully vaccinated or receive their second dose by the end of September.
Information about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Clara County, including clinic locations, can be found by visiting sccfreevax.org.
Len Ramirez contributed to this report.