County ends vaccination mandate for new hires, testing for existing workers

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Article by Paul Sisson:

As of Monday, San Diego County no longer requires new hires to prove they have been vaccinated.

The change, confirmed by county personnel during a monthly COVID-19 update to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, was made administratively, ending a controversial requirement put in place in October 2021.

Unlike the City of San Diego and K-12 schools, the county never required its existing employees to get vaccinated, requiring those who remained without the shot to undergo regular testing instead. That testing requirement, an official confirmed Tuesday, has also been eliminated as the number of local cases has dropped.

The actions came as the local pandemic continues to produce new cases, but at a decreased rate. In her monthly COVID-19 update to the Board of Supervisors, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer and director, noted that case rates, deaths and other commonly watched measures such as hospitalizations have continued to fall even as there has been an uptick in the amount of virus observed in local wastewater.

With trends generally falling, many who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting continued to decry the board’s proposal to continue calling its COVID-related actions a “local health emergency.”
There were 37 requests to speak on the COVID-19 response, with a near-universal outcry against everything from coronavirus vaccines to personal attacks on supervisors. Once again, one member of the public made a racial comment about Wooten, who is Black, with board Chair Nathan Fletcher pausing the meeting to call the man’s words “disgusting” and “vile.”

As has been the case many times in the past, supervisors Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson voted against extending the local health emergency and allowing the board to meet electronically in the future.

Before taking the vote, Desmond wondered what it would take for the board to give up on its emergency stance, given that it irritates some members of the public and given that current trends are in decline this spring.

“I think it’s a legitimate question, when do we think the emergency could be declared over?” Desmond asked.

Wooten noted that the county laid out its approach to ending the local state of emergency in a presentation to the board in 2021. On May 4, 2021, the county noted that the federal state of emergency set certain guidelines for case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccination rates that had to be met before the emergency could be declared officially over. At the national level, the document indicates, there would be less than 2,000 new cases per day and a test positivity rate of less than 1 percent. That translates to 17 or fewer new cases per day in San Diego. Most recently, Wooten noted during her presentation, the region has averaged 230 new cases per day. The seven-day moving average of new cases, as of Monday, nationwide was 25,537, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wooten said the county intends to follow the federal and state governments in ending the emergency.

“It would be a domino effect if it was rescinded at the federal level, then at the state level and then at the local levels, so we’ll follow that process,” Wooten said.

Desmond, though, has consistently urged his colleagues to move more quickly, noting that the public just isn’t buying the label.

“We’re sort of losing credibility, I think, with the people on this,” Desmond said.

Fletcher alluded to previous explanations that the emergency status is connected to funding that helps governments pay for the wide range of expenses that have occurred during the pandemic, everything from community-wide testing to rent assistance. Emergency funding after disasters, he noted, does not dry up the moment the immediate threat is over.

“Even after a wildfire, the fire is out, that continues while you clean up the final response, but I think everyone is looking ahead to the state and federal government moving forward to allow us to truly put this in an endemic stage,” Fletcher said.

And there are still pandemic-caused crises underway, added Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer. Kids under age five, she noted, still have not been approved for vaccination, and child care remains heavily impacted, with many daycares closing with the loss of pandemic funding just as parents are now expected to return to work in person.

“This is a childcare crisis that’s not over, it’s a pandemic-related childcare crisis, and we’re still in the middle of it,” Lawson-Remer said.

Some programs, such as the county’s hotel lodging program for “at risk” people experiencing homelessness, have been particularly difficult to wind down. In February, the county announced that the program would end on April 1, but David Estrella, director of housing and community development services for the county, said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 meeting that the program will be extended through June. A total of 78 people continue to live in public-funded hotel rooms because they have not yet been able to find other lodging.

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