Unions representing Sonoma County workers expressed mixed feelings Friday about the county’s requirement that workers in high-risk jobs get a COVID-19 booster vaccine if they are eligible.
The mandate, issued Thursday by county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, requires school employees, firefighters, law enforcement officers, medical workers and temporary disaster shelter operators to get a booster by Feb. 1, 2022, if they are eligible or get tested for the virus at least twice a week.
The North Bay Labor Council said in a statement that it commended the county for taking steps to protect local workers from the virus, especially in light of the Bay Area’s rise in cases of the highly contagious omicron variant.
“Everyone should be fully vaccinated including getting boosters when eligible–as one step in stopping the pandemic,” the union stated.
The union went on to advocate for additional transmission mitigation policies, including the continuation of required masking in workplaces.
The requirements are an expansion of the county’s requirement since Sept. 7 that all county employees be fully vaccinated against the virus or get tested regularly.
The state has issued its own vaccination requirements for K-12 teachers, workers in health care settings like hospitals and state employees.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced that the state will require health care workers to get a COVID-19 booster vaccine by Feb. 1, provided they are eligible.
Sonoma County confirmed its first omicron case Dec. 16. Statewide, 460 cases of the variant have been confirmed as of Wednesday.
Early research has found that while the omicron variant may or may not be less likely than previous variants to cause serious illness, a booster vaccine dose is likely necessary to maintain an effective immune response to the virus.
Boosters are recommended for people age 16 and up who got their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine dose at least six months ago or those who got their single Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
Spokespeople for the Santa Rosa Teachers Association and the West Sonoma County Teachers Association did not respond to requests for comment, but Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steven Herrington called Mase’s order that school staff and faculty get boosted is “vital” to keeping schools open throughout the winter.
Sonoma County students have been particularly affected by school closures, Herrington said, as wildfires and flooding in the North Bay had interrupted the three previous school years before the pandemic and forced students to attend classes remotely during the 2020-2021 school year.
“While vaccines have allowed a return to in-person classes, ensuring our school communities are as protected as they can be from omicron and future potential variants is essential for providing a safe environment conducive to education,” he said.
The Sonoma County Office of Education is also in talks with county public health officials to host a booster vaccination clinic in the coming weeks.
But not every labor official greeted Mace’s directives with open arms.
Mike Vail, president of the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, argued that employees affected by vaccination requirements are being “denied their own personal choices” and lamented vaccination requirements as government overreach.
“I support everyone’s right to choose,” he said in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, both elected and unelected officials have been empowered to strip this right from people and the day will come when people have had enough.”
Vail also argued that “America, and the rest of the world, cannot go on forever wearing masks and getting booster shots for every new disease we encounter.”
As of Friday, the county’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents per day sat at 12.3, according to county data.
Among unvaccinated residents, that rate is more than doubled at 29.3 cases per 100,000, while the rate among vaccinated residents is 8.4 cases per 100,000 residents.
As of Thursday, county data also reveals that local hospitals have 24 patients with COVID-19.
County residents are encouraged to visit https://socoemergency.org for information on where to get a COVID-19 vaccine or tested for the virus.