Monterey County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to affirm the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for county employees and extend the mandate’s compliance deadline from Sept. 15 to Sept. 30.
The board originally approved the mandate at its July 30 meeting, requiring all full-time, part-time, temporary, volunteer, intern, per diem and teleworking employees to get fully vaccinated starting on Aug. 16.
The mandate also requires county employees to wear a face covering whenever inside a county building or worksite.
Employees who are granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons are required to test for COVID at least once per week, or twice per week if they work at Navidad Medical Center in Salinas.
According to Ariana Hurtado, an analyst with the county’s Human Resources Department, 63 percent of county employees have confirmed that they are fully vaccinated.
The county has also received responses from 77 percent of its workforce, Hurtado told the board, so the vaccination rate is estimated at 82 percent when the remaining 23 percent of the workforce is factored in.
“We know these are tough times, these are tough decisions, but I think all of us recognize that there’s been enough hospitalizations and infections and way too many deaths for us not to carry this out at this time,” Supervisor Luis Alejo said.
Several county employees argued the board reached too far in passing the mandate and that it violated employees’ freedom of choice.
The employees also decried a provision of the mandate that will allow the county to fire employees who do not get fully vaccinated if they do not have an approved exemption.
Supervisor John Phillips argued, however, that county employees have an obligation to protect both themselves and others with whom they come into contact.
“If I call the sheriff out, I think I’ve got a right to know, if he’s investigating something in my house, that the sheriff’s deputy is vaccinated, that I don’t put my family at risk,” he said. “And I do think it was important for us to take the lead.”
Supervisor Wendy Root-Askew noted that children under age 12 will remain ineligible for the vaccine for the immediate future and that while their likelihood of developing serious illness or dying due to COVID-19 is not as high as other demographics, they can still contract and spread the virus to others.
Roughly 17 percent of the county’s residents are under age 12. In addition, 38 percent of the county’s children between ages 12 and 17 remain unvaccinated, according to county data.
“What I’m hearing from parents of children in our community … these parents are begging this county and this board to show leadership, to help protect our children from this virus,” Root-Askew said.
“Our children were sent home from school last year, they’ve been told to stay home out of fear that they would be silent carriers, infecting others,” she continued. “They’ve not been playing in parks, they’ve been not at birthday parties with their friends. They’ve essentially sacrificed a year of their lives and I think that we have a responsibility at this point to ensure that we’re doing everything that we can to keep them safe.”
Information about the COVID-19 vaccine and how to get vaccinated in Monterey County can be found at https://bit.ly/3sLE7aL.