SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — San Jose’s tough new COVID-19 vaccination policy went into effect early Friday morning, but the mandate was altered at the 12th hour to allow unvaccinated municipal employees the option of undergoing twice weekly COVID testing at their own expense.

The mandate for proof of vaccination threatened immediate termination if it wasn’t honored. But Mayor Sam Liccardo said after meetings with the unions representing city employees, it was decided the process would need to be taken in steps.

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“San Jose doesn’t want to push anyone out of their employment with the city, but we have a responsibility to continue to deliver critical city services, safely, to our residents,” Liccardo said in a news release. “We know new variants are emerging, which only furthers the need to ensure we have a vaccinated workforce. Our ability to provide essential services to our community without increased risk of interruptions from exposures depends on it.”

The policy now will allow unvaccinated individuals, without a religious or medical exemption, a one week ‘grace period’ to seek vaccination before being placed on a one-week unpaid suspension, the first step in the disciplinary process.

Unvaccinated employees will be required to test negative twice a week at their own time and expense. City officials will consider further action for those that chose to remain unvaccinated after December 31.

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To lessen the impact on vital city services, the employees who remain unvaccinated will be given staggered disciplinary one-week suspensions.

Officials call it an encouraging sign that workforce vaccinations have increased from an 89% to 92% in recent weeks.

“I’m proud of the city staff who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to provide ongoing essential services as our community depends on us,” said City Manager Jennifer Maguire. “The fully implemented mandated vaccination policy will continue to support this key goal.”

Employees who have received 1 dose of a COVID vaccine by October 1st or during the disciplinary process will be given reasonable time to receive their 2nd dose and will not be subject to disciplinary action unless they fail to receive their 2nd dose.

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City officials said that employees who have submitted requests for religious and medical exemptions were being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.