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San Diego County recommends employers require proof of vaccination or regular testing

San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.
San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten speaks Monday during a media briefing on recommending that businesses require employees to be vaccinated or to get tested for the coronavirus every week.
(Kristian Carreon / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County officials called on employers Monday to require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or receive a weekly test.

The recommendation would apply to public and private employers as well as nonprofits. It’s the latest measure local officials have taken to combat a wave of infections and hospitalizations driven by the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus.

But will it work?

The answer will depend on how many businesses heed the county’s call.

“I have talked to a lot of employers who said, ‘You know what? A little nudge would help us out,’ ” county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.

It’s a message that Jerry Sanders, chief executive of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, echoed.

“I applaud the county for doing that. I think it makes sense,” he said. “I think the fact that the county came out and recommended it helps smaller employers think about doing it and helps them do it. A lot of employers probably didn’t know they could.”

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It remains unclear how many businesses will institute vaccine requirements for their workers, but many of the region’s largest employers have already done so or plan to soon.

That includes the region’s 48,500 federal employees and 45,200 state employees. President Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom have already issued mandates for federal and state workers, respectively.

It also includes San Diego County’s own 18,000 workers. County employees who haven’t proved that they’re vaccinated will have to wear masks indoors and get tested weekly beginning Aug. 23. Fletcher said there will be disciplinary action for those who don’t comply but said the county is still determining what that would look like — such as whether employees who refuse to get vaccinated or tested would be fired.

About 2.8 million San Diegans are currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, but 500,000 of them have yet to get their shots.

County officials pointed to recent data as a good reason they should. Over the last 30 days, Fletcher said, people who are not fully immunized have accounted for 92% of new infections and 98% of hospitalizations.

Cases in the region have continued to climb since the Fourth of July. In mid-July, San Diego was seeing 200 to 300 new infections a day, but now cases routinely reach 1,000 or more a day. The number of San Diegans in a hospital with COVID-19 has risen from about 100 to 500 in that same time.

“It will get worse before it gets better,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer. “But the way out of that is for people to get vaccinated.”

Notably, the county is not requiring businesses to mandate workplace vaccination and isn’t issuing a vaccine mandate for the public. Instead, officials continue to recommend that everyone who’s eligible to get a vaccine do so.

It’s a move that mimics the county’s stance on masking, where it has asked all San Diegans to mask indoors regardless of vaccination status without requiring that residents do so.

That makes San Diego’s masking and vaccination policies less stringent than those of Los Angeles County and San Francisco, respectively, with the latter requiring that those who enter restaurants, bars and other public indoor spaces show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated.

When asked whether the county would consider masking or vaccination mandates in the future and what would trigger such a change, Fletcher repeatedly declined to provide a direct answer. He also would not say whether the county has the authority to enact stricter measures, though other California counties are clearly doing so.

“We’re not going to speculate on what’s coming. We’re doing what we can with what we have right now.”

Wosen and Freeman write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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