Entrance to City Hall
The entrance to San Diego City Hall. Photo by Chris Stone

More than 90% of San Diego city employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, allowing the city to accept some requests for religious or medical exemptions, officials said Monday.

The city had established a mandatory vaccination policy, but about 790 employees will receive notices starting this week that their requests for reasonable accommodation were approved, officials said.

City departments will provide free weekly COVID- 19 testing at the workplace for the employees. If they refuse to comply with the weekly testing regimen, they will be subject to termination.

“Before we instituted the vaccine mandate, just 69% of city employees were vaccinated, and I’m incredibly proud the vaccination rate is now over 90%,” Mayor Todd Gloria said in a statement. “It’s unquestionably to the public’s benefit for city employees to stay healthy and on the job, safely serving residents, and I am committed to maintaining policies that protect San Diegans. I’m grateful to our employees for joining me in this effort.”

Last year, the City Council mandated that all employees become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1, 2021 as a condition of employment. Employees who refused to get vaccinated were provided the option to apply for a medical or religious exemption.

The city reviewed the requests on a case-by-case basis as required by law. Officials are still considering exemptions for around 200 employees who submitted requests.

According to city data, the costs of lost work time due to sick days from COVID-19 totaled more than $3.64 million from October 2020, to September 2021.

When the council passed the mandate, nearly 1,300 city employees had been infected with COVID-19 across all departments.

In an example he gave in November, Gloria said COVID-19 infections had resulted in delays in trash collection on 45 trash routes, 1,030 recycling routes and 45 greenery routes dating to July 2020.

Those delays affected more than 1.3 million city residents, some on multiple occasions.

Additionally, as a result of rising positive tests, the San Diego Police Department had to suspend its academy operations on two occasions.

The San Diego Fire Department also has had to temporarily close two fire academies and make changes in operational protocols when dozens of personnel were in isolation at one time due to positive COVID-19 tests..

City News Service