The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to require all of 2,400 County employees to either take the Covid-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing.
Employees who refuse both risk termination, or being put on leave without pay.
“Given the nature of the public health crisis, an employee who refuses to vaccinate or test weekly will be deemed to have subjected co-workers to unnecessary safety risks,” county officials stated.
The supervisors also had the option to require the vaccine for all employees without giving them the option to opt-out with testing, or to keep things as they are. Offering the option of weekly testing is a way to shield possible legal action from employees who refuse to get the shots.
County officials say the mandate is a way to boost the number of vaccinated employees—which currently stands at 85%—to at least 90%.
The supervisors will review the effectiveness of the policy in 45 days, at which time they have the option to simply require all employees to be vaccinated.
“This is a significant statement by the board on the importance of vaccinations to protect the health and safety of our community,” Board Chair Bruce McPherson said. “Our employees have demonstrated leadership through their already high vaccination rates, and the board encourages every community member to follow suit if they are able to obtain a vaccine.”
A handful of people spoke against the mandate, most of them stating debunked and otherwise false or misleading claims and conspiracy theories.
“These vaccines do not prevent transmission,” said Carol Bjorn. “Therefore it doesn’t make sense to have any kind of mandates of vaccines.”
Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel says that unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to get the virus than those who have gotten their shots.
Bjorn also said that 11,000 people have died from the vaccine, but she was citing data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is an open database where anyone can submit information.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 357 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were administered in the U.S. from Dec. 14, 2020 through Aug. 16.
During this time, VAERS received 6,789 reports of death (0.0019%) among people who received a Covid-19 vaccine. But the CDC says that any adverse events after vaccination do not necessarily mean the vaccine caused them.
The supervisors’ move comes on the heels of a countywide mandate by Newel to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccine status. The State of California has recently required mandatory vaccinations and testing for industries such as healthcare facilities, congregate settings and correctional facilities and detention centers.
The Food and Drug Administration also granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 16 years and older on Monday, making it the first to move beyond emergency use status in the United States.
“Masks are just one layer of protection,” Newel said. “The vaccine is probably the most important and certainly the most effective layer of protection for our county workforce.”
The county is hoping to contract with a provider currently used by the cities of Capitola and Santa Cruz that could bill employees’ insurance companies. Employees who don’t have insurance—which county officials said is unlikely—could get the test for free.
According to the California Department of Public Health, the state is currently experiencing its fastest increase in new cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, to the tune of 11 per 100,000 people per day.
In Santa Cruz County, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 dropped over the past week from 18—the most since January—to 11. There were 763 active Covid-19 cases in the county, according to county data available Tuesday.
Santa Clara and Monterey counties have already instituted mandatory vaccinations for all employees, and San Benito County instituted mandatory weekly testing for unvaccinated employees. The cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville have yet not instituted any new mandates.