The first five months of 2022 have been a whirlwind in regards to the COVID pandemic. Following record high virus numbers caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant in January, we saw coronavirus cases decline significantly throughout February and March. As numbers fell, officials across the U.S. chose to lift many COVID-based restrictions, including mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Several major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., ended their indoor vaccine mandates in February.
Sadly, the pandemic isn’t done with us yet. In April, COVID started rising again and they’ve yet to let up. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infections have increased by more than 18 percent in the last week, while hospitalizations went up by over 24 percent. Many communities across the U.S. are also experiencing medium and high levels of virus transmission again, which is largely the result of new subvariants of Omicron that spread even faster than the original Omicron, per the CDC.
On the other hand, COVID vaccination numbers have remained mostly stagnant. According to the CDC, while many people got their initial shots, few have stayed up-to-date with boosters over time. The agency’s latest data indicates that about 78 percent of people in the U.S. have gotten at least one vaccine dose, but only 66.5 percent have been fully vaccinated and of those, only 46.4 percent have received their booster. Now, as infections and hospitalizations rise once again, vaccine mandates are also popping back up.
Long Beach, California, is the latest city gearing up to impose a vaccination requirement for workers, the Long Beach Post reported. According to the newspaper, the city manger’s office announced on May 23 that it would be enforcing a mandatory COVID vaccination policy for city employees next month.
Plans for this requirement were first revealed in Sept. 2021, when workers were informed that the City of Long Beach would be moving forward with a provision that “all new and current employees must be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to further protect public health.” But negotiations between the city and various employee labor organizations have been holding up implementation of the vaccine mandate, despite health experts emphasizing its need for months, according to the Long Beach Post.
“Citizens deserve to know that if they call 911, the men and women responding to the call are vaccinated,” Andrew Noymer, PhD, an epidemiologist at UC Irvine, told the newspaper back in January. “Vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus.”
Starting June 6, all Long Beach city employees will be required to provide proof that they’ve received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to the new memo from Joe Ambrosini, the city’s director of human resources. Those who do not wish to be vaccinated must have submitted a request for medical, religious, or personal accommodation by that same date. Employees granted personal exemption will face a number of stipulations, including weekly testing, pay cuts, and zero-tolerance mask mandates that can result in termination if not abided by.
“Those who choose this option will need to pay for COVID-19 weekly testing and can complete the testing during City work hours,” Ambrosini’s memo explains. “For administrative ease, employees will be charged one flat rate and the City will deduct the cost of weekly testing from the employee’s paycheck bi-weekly. The mandatory COVID-19 testing cost is $107.98 and will appear as a bi-weekly payroll deduction.”
Any Long Beach city workers not granted accommodation will need to be vaccinated this summer, and if they have chosen a two-dose COVID vaccine regimen, that second shot must be received by July 8. “The vaccination requirement will be a condition of City employment. Employees who do not meet the requirements as specified in the policy will be subject to discipline as outlined in the policy,” the memo states. According to the Long Beach Post, this discipline includes a suspension of up to six months and the possibility for termination afterwards.
“COVID-19 poses a serious risk to individuals who are not fully vaccinated and therefore, safety measures are necessary to reduce COVID-19 transmission,” the memo from Ambrosini says. “Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent transmission and limit COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Unvaccinated employees have a higher likelihood of transmitting COVID-19 in the workplace, and to the public they serve.”
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