On July 26, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a first-in-the nation order requiring all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or be tested at least once per week, and encouraged all local governments and other employers to adopt a similar protocol.
While news headlines declared government and healthcare workers would face termination if they continue to refuse the vaccines, as of Oct.12, no San Benito County worker or Hazel Hawkins Hospital staff has been terminated for refusing to be vaccinated.
While the state does not place any consequences on those who refuse to be vaccinated, San Benito County does. Residents face the possibility of termination because, according to the County of San Benito COVID-19 vaccine status and verification and testing policy, “county employees who fail to comply with this policy are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
“The state health orders required the hospital to know the vaccination status of all health care personnel which includes physicians, and we weren’t able to fulfill that with one of our physicians,” said Frankie Gallagher, director of marketing and community relations at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital.
Gallagher has yet to answer why that physician declined to be vaccinated.
David Westrick, public information officer for the county said, “Vaccinations in this context, as it pertains to county employees, are personnel matters. Regular employees can get vaccinated, get tested twice a week or apply for a religious or medical exemption. Sheriff’s deputies and at-will employees are all county employees. No county employee has been terminated.”
“The county does not have a COVID-19 mandate for employees per se,” said Edgar Nolasco, deputy county administration officer. “The Board of Supervisors did authorize a testing mandate for all employees that are not fully vaccinated. We did implement the State Public Health Officer Order of Aug. 5, which mandates Behavioral Health employees to be fully vaccinated. However, employees may request an exemption based on religious beliefs or due to qualifying medical reasons. We have not had an employee flat-out refuse to go through the process. We are working with those affected employees along with our labor partners.”
According to the testing policy, an employee who does not comply with the policy and misses work can use up to 10 days of paid time.
The county has yet to disclose how many county employees have opted to get tested weekly rather than get vaccinated. Nolasco said at the Oct. 12 Board of Supervisors meeting that the number of unvaccinated employees were between 90 and low 100s.
The state mandate took effect Aug. 9, but there is nothing in the mandate that spells out consequences for those who continue to refuse the vaccines. The deadline to receive a first dose of a one-dose regimen or second dose of a two-dose regimen was Sept. 30.
“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” Newsom said in a press release. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same. Vaccines are safe—they protect our family, those who truly can’t get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic.”
California Hospital Association President & CEO Carmela Coyle and California Primary Care Association Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Witte endorsed the governor’s mandate. Each said in written statements that it was a matter of following the science. Yet neither offered up possible terminations or furloughs for refusing the vaccines.
Also, United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals President Denise Duncan, RN, stated: “COVID-19 transmissions are high, we’re in a fourth surge, and we know that unvaccinated people are suffering the most. This is a forward-thinking order from Gov. Newsom which will save lives by protecting patients and caregivers both. Our nurses and health care professionals are still reeling from the last year and a half of the pandemic, including staffing shortages. This is a proactive step to protect patients, workers, and the broader community.”
Duncan also did not suggest what should be done with healthcare professionals who refuse the vaccine.
“Many long-term-care staff continue to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to Harvard Health Publishing. “In a recent CDC report, nursing homes had a median vaccination rate of 37.5% for staff during the first month of the federal vaccination effort; by comparison, a median of 77.8% of nursing home residents received the vaccine.”
The Harvard article went on to say, “Recently, Maryland’s acting health secretary told state lawmakers that about one-third to one-half of staff who were offered the vaccine chose to have it––nowhere near an expectation of 80% to 90%.”
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