San Jose City Hall. File photo.
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose employees will be required to show proof they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine or take weekly tests, following the lead of the county and many other public agencies.

    In an email to employees on Wednesday, including the police and fire departments, the city’s Office of Employee Relations said by Aug. 23, it will require employees to provide proof of vaccination or weekly negative COVID tests.

    Employees who don’t provide their vaccination status or a weekly negative test will be placed on unpaid leave.

    Following Santa Clara County’s lead, the city is also considering mandating vaccinations for its employees by Sept. 30. Due to the recent surge in COVID cases, local health leaders in July recommended employers require vaccines. The city is in talks with its labor unions over mandatory vaccines.

    “These new requirements reflect strong recommendations from leading health care experts,” Deputy City Manager Lee Wilcox told San José Spotlight. “Our top priority is to keep the public and our workforce safe from COVID and vaccinations are the best way to do that.”

    The Office of Employee Relations said in the email that vaccination remains the most effective tool in preventing COVID-19 and fully vaccinated individuals have substantial protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death, even against the Delta variant.

    “This decision reinforces the city’s ongoing commitment to protect the safety of employees and the communities we serve, supports the county’s vaccination efforts, and sets an example — especially given our position as a public agency — of the importance of vaccination to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the variants,” said the Office of Employee Relations. 

    There have been 124,586 cases of COVID and 1,709 deaths countywide as of Wednesday, county data shows. About 78.5% of county residents aged 12 and older completed their vaccinations. 

    San Jose isn’t the first major California city to require employees show proof of vaccines. 

    San Francisco city employees must submit documented proof of their COVID-19 vaccination status to the city. Those who are unvaccinated will need to get their shots within 10 weeks of the FDA’s final approval to one or more COVID vaccines. City employees who don’t comply could be disciplined or fired.

    The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is considering whether to require employees to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing, the Los Angeles Times reported. San Diego is considering similar measures. 

    San Jose Councilmember David Cohen told San José Spotlight that the city’s order is a critical step to putting the pandemic behind us. 

    “It has been clear for a long time that a more formal requirement for the city’s 6,500 employees is necessary,” he said. “Given the complexity of coordinating with our 11 labor partners, I am impressed with the speed and acumen with which the all involved have implemented the requirement announced today.”

    San Jose employees working from home will also be required to show proof of vaccination. Those who are not vaccinated, or refuse to provide proof of vaccination, must provide weekly COVID test results in person or virtually. Workers requiring weekly testing will be compensated for an hour.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city needs to require employees to be vaccinated and is fully supportive of these actions. 

    Councilmember Matt Mahan had been pushing City Hall to require vaccines or testing for its employees.

    “We have a mask mandate indoors at City Hall, but it’s imperfect and city employees are… all over the city interacting with residents,” Mahan said. “And while masks are very effective, it is much harder to guarantee that people consistently and properly wear a mask than to ask them to be vaccinated or take a weekly test.”

    Mahan said he doesn’t think it’s onerous to require unvaccinated employees to take weekly COVID tests.

    “We are experiencing a surge and we are one of the largest employers in the city,” Mahan said. “It’s just common sense that we should have a requirement.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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