LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles city officials today began hashing out details of a proposal to require all municipal employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly coronavirus testing, while a City Council member introduced a motion calling for a stricter rule that would mandate vaccinations.
“The fourth wave is here, and the choice for Angelenos couldn't be clearer -- get vaccinated or get COVID-19,'' Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday night. “This urgent need means that if you're a city employee, we're now going to require you to either show that you're vaccinated or take a weekly test.''
The policy, similar to the state's policy, falls short of a vaccine “mandate,'' offering employees the option of undergoing regular COVID testing instead of providing proof of vaccination.
However, Garcetti said he and City Council President Nury Martinez are “committed to pursuing a full vaccine mandate.''
Martinez said, “I think it's safe to say that we're getting tired of putting our lives on hold to protect people who don't want to protect themselves and get vaccinated.''
“We cannot hold the rest of our city accountable if we're not setting the example and holding ourselves accountable, this is what this is about,'' Martinez added.
City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion Wednesday that would impose a strict vaccination mandate on municipal employees. The motion asks the city administrative officer, chief legislative analyst and other staff to report back in 15 days on a policy that would require all city employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated and report their vaccination status to the appropriate city department.
“Plain and simple -- vaccinations are the only way out of this pandemic, and the city of Los Angeles must lead by example,'' Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent transmission and limit COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. If we want our economy to fully recover, if we want our children to be able to go to school without masks on, and if we want the most vulnerable members of our community to not end up in the hospital, we must all do our part. Voluntary efforts have proven to be insufficient to move beyond this pandemic, so it's time to think differently about our approach, and the city must lead as an example of what can and should be done.''
The motion was introduced as the city's Executive Employee Relations Committee met behind closed doors at City Hall to hash out details of Garcetti's call for employees to initially be either vaccinated or regularly tested, and plans for negotiating those details with employee unions. The committee is expected to discuss a timeline for the program and how testing will be conducted.
The committee will also discuss what will happen if an employee tests positive for the virus, Martinez said.
Garcetti said, “If you're positive, you better go home and you're not working. That's the consequence. You're not staying, you're not working.''
Garcetti noted that many city employees will continue working from home through Labor Day, so the policy won't go into effect immediately.
The mayor said the city would work to make testing as easy as possible and that “this is not some sort of punishment, but we need to make those accommodations, especially for folks who cannot get vaccinated.''
Garcetti added that weekly testing for unvaccinated employees is not expected to cost taxpayers money, as employees are provided with health insurance.
“I respect that there's a lot of conversations that have to happen,'' Garcetti said. “For some of us (getting vaccinated is) a very easy decision, for others, it's a very emotional thing. That doesn't mean they're anti-vaccination.''
Garcetti also pleaded with the public to get vaccinated and wear masks, noting that city-run COVID-19 testing sites' seven-day positivity rate is 10.4%, up from 1.5% when the state dropped most COVID-19 restrictions on June 15.
The positivity rate is highest for 18-29 year-olds, a group that has a 13% test positivity rate.
“To put it bluntly, we are facing a surge of COVID-19 here in Los Angeles once again. Our cases are up, our test positivity is up, our hospitals are admitting a growing number of our friends, our neighbors and our family members,'' Garcetti said.
Martinez said she was “exhausted of having to explain to people the importance of vaccinations ... and (meanwhile) you'll see an outrage of people the minute we have to start to shut businesses down.''
The state announced on Monday that all state employees and all workers at hospitals and health care facilities across California will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination -- while those who are unable or refuse to do so will have to be tested at least once a week. The state program is expected to be in effect by Aug. 23. It will apply to all health-care settings across the state -- public and private.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced Tuesday afternoon that the city will follow the state's model and require its employees to either show proof of vaccinations or weekly negative COVID-19 tests.
“Thank you to the 72% of employees who are already vaccinated,'' Garcia said. “It's important that public institutions model responsible leadership.''
Garcia added that he hopes other cities and counties throughout California will enact similar policies, saying “it's time we beat this pandemic.''
San Francisco and New York City have announced similar plans. The city of Pasadena has announced that it will mandate vaccines for its employees.
Garcetti and Martinez' announcement Tuesday came as the Los Angeles Police Department experiences an increase in positive cases and has one employee hospitalized in critical condition.
In the last week, an additional 33 LAPD employees have tested positive for the virus, bringing the department's total to 2,760, LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Police Commission on Tuesday. Last week, Moore reported an increase of 19 positive cases within the department.
Eighty-one employees are home recovering, an increase of 18 from last week, Moore said.
Moore did not provide an update Tuesday on the department's vaccination rate, but he said the department was “closely monitoring the changing landscape as to the vaccinations and the requirements.''
“We've had conversations with Mayor Garcetti and I understand that the mayor's team is working with labor across the city for vaccination protocols and we're paying close attention to that,'' Moore said Tuesday morning, before Garcetti's announcement.
On June 22, Moore said that only 58% of LAPD employees have “had a full set of vaccines or have natural antibodies'' from already having contracted the virus.
Regarding the low vaccination rates within the police and fire departments, Garcetti said Tuesday, “I hope that we save more police officers' and firefighters lives because unfortunately we've had to bury some this year.''
Los Angeles County officials reported another 2,067 infections and 15 deaths on Tuesday, while COVID hospitalizations increased to 891, an increase from 825 the previous day.
Garcetti said 930 cases were in the city of Los Angeles, bringing the city's total cases during the pandemic to 526,950.
Also Tuesday, following in the footsteps of the University of California, the California State University system announced that it will also require all students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to take part in any in-person classes or activities for the fall term.
Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.