A new proposal to switch from a COVID-19 booster vaccine mandate to a testing requirement is making its way through San Jose.
The discussion was poised to happen during Wednesday’s Rules committee meeting. It moved to closed session after guidance from City Attorney Nora Frimann, who said personnel issues should be discussed in private.
The proposal would flip the existing COVID mandates and require all employees to test twice a week unless they show proof of full inoculation, including a booster shot. The current requirements mandate all employees get the booster shot, unless granted a medical or religious exemption.
Councilmember Raul Peralez introduced the proposal and said it would be a better way to transition out of the pandemic and into a new normal as we enter the endemic stage.
“We can all see potentially continued booster requirements now that we know the boosters are only really effective for a couple months,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “So rather than continue down that path of booster mandates continually happening every few months, and then running up against this reality of having more and more city employees out of compliance or potentially quitting or resigning from the city, this is a safe and logical transition.”
The proposal has support from members of the public who spoke at the Wednesday meeting and from the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 52.
“Members of our organization salute the council for its honorable goal of providing the public a safe workforce, however we do agree with Councilmember Peralez that meeting this goal requires flexibility, not a line in the sand,” the lodge’s board of directors wrote in a letter to the City Council.
The testing mandate proposal comes as the city struggles to get all employees to comply with the booster mandate. Though 95% of the workforce is vaccinated, only 82% of those eligible for the booster shot have the third dose. That means about 800 employees missed the Feb. 11 deadline, according to Jennifer Schembri, director of the Office of Employee Relations.
In response, the city pushed the deadline back to Feb. 25 to give employees more time to comply or to submit their exemptions.
Of the 950 actively working sworn police personal eligible for the booster, 699 have shown proof of a third shot, Schembri said.
Peralez also proposed this change because city employees reached out to him concerned their requests for exemptions were being denied. To date, about 300 exemptions have been granted.
“This unnecessarily caused uncertainty and anxiety from a fear of potential job loss or discipline,” Peralez wrote in his memo. “As one of the most thinly staffed large cities in the country, we need to explore every option available to keep our community safe while also keeping core services running, especially among our first responders.”
This approach would be a better way to resolve the employee compliance problem, he said.
Peralez isn’t certain his colleagues on the Rules committee will agree, but if they do, the proposal will come to the full City Council in two weeks. That discussion will likely be held in closed session again, as it relates to labor issues.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.