Long Beach this week began gathering data on how many of its employees are vaccinated, but until that process is complete, the city does not have an accurate count of how many firefighters, police officers and other municipal employees have been immunized against COVID-19.
Until now, Long Beach had only gathered partial data on its employees’ vaccination status. Getting a full picture could take two to three weeks, city spokesperson Chelsey Magallon said in an email.
“Although we held City staff-specific vaccine clinics, these represent only a proportion of those vaccinated as many were vaccinated at other publicly available sites,” Magallon said.
This month, however, Cal/OSHA told employers they must document workers’ vaccination status if they’re allowed to work inside without masks. Long Beach has been meeting with unions representing city workers to hammer out how that will work.
“We are in the process of requiring all employees to indicate vaccination status with the City per Cal/OSHA rules, which will provide an accurate picture of vaccination status,” Magallon said.
She said the city expects to start gathering information on individual employee’s vaccination status next week, but at least some firefighters and police officers have already been sent brief questionnaires about the topic. The self-attestation forms ask them to indicate whether they’re vaccinated, unvaccinated or decline to say, according to union representatives.
“For us, it’s not a big deal,” said, Long Beach Firefighters Association President Rex Pritchard. He said his members are used to filling out vaccine attestations because county health officials have required them in the past for the seasonal flu vaccine.
Long Beach Police Officers Association President Rich Chambers said the city’s self-attestation process was less invasive than other acceptable options Cal/OSHA outlined, which included employees showing proof of inoculation through a vaccine card or health care document.
Workers who say they’re unvaccinated or decline to state will be required to wear masks in most situations, but vaccinated workers will be allowed to go mostly maskless, according to Cal/OSHA rules.
Both the LBFD and LBPD saw surges in infections earlier in the pandemic, but they’ve since tapered off with tighter rules around masking and the availability of shots. First-responders have been eligible to get the vaccine in Long Beach since mid-January and all city employees became eligible on March 15, according to Magallon.
“I can’t remember the last time one of our members had a positive COVID test,” Pritchard said. “I think the vaccine has really done a great job in protecting our members, which in turn protects our patients.”
But the issue has taken on new urgency recently with the new more contagious coronavirus delta variant circulating locally.
Although vaccines appear to offer strong protection against the variant, the Long Beach Health Department warned it poses a grave danger, “especially to unvaccinated people.”
Whether Long Beach will require workers to get the vaccine is still an open question, one that could become controversial. Both Pritchard and Chambers said they’ve pushed their members to get the vaccine, but they’d be opposed to a mandate.
“I think people have a right to make decisions for themselves on that,” Pritchard said.
Long Beach is “closely following” the city of San Francisco’s decisions to require vaccines for employees with limited exceptions for health and religious reasons, but the city hasn’t yet made a decision whether it will follow suit, Magallon said.