San Diego County leaders recommended on Monday employers require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subjected to regular testing as cases continue to rise amid the delta variant's spread.
San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nora Vargas and Nathan Fletcher were joined in a press conference by County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten and County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric McDonald to encourage the suggestion as virus cases continue to increase in the region.
Nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Monday.
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"We are here today to officially recommend that all employers across San Diego County require their employees be vaccinated or be subject to regular testing and mask," Supervisor Chair Fletcher said. "We think this gives us the best opportunity to move forward."
Already, the county announced a vaccine mandate for its employees and the state announced earlier this month that health care workers must be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September. The decisions come as COVID-19 cases nationwide have spiked.
One challenge pointed out is that unions are much more prevalent in the public sector and may push back on the recommendation, but experts say -- since these mandates allow for workers to apply for an exemption for religious or medical reasons – it is legal.
Dr. Wooten explained that the delta variant is more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2, therefore, it is the county's urgent suggestion for as many eligible residents to get inoculated.
"The spike is already here. We’re in the middle of the surge," she said. "The question is – will it get worse? And it will get worse before it gets better but the way out of that is for people to get vaccinated."
Supervisor Jim Desmond agreed that the vaccine protects against COVID-19 and severe symptoms that can be caused by the Delta variant, but disagreed that workplaces should mandate vaccines. He praised the county for allowing the option for weekly COVID-19 testing for those who are not vaccinated.
"We must change our mindset and realize that COVID-19 is here to stay, whether it’s the Delta Variant or any other variant. COVID-19 may start to look more like the yearly flu, where a shot is needed to ward off a new variant," Desmond said in a newsletter to his constituents. "Regardless of what the future may hold, COVID-19 will be around for a long time, and it’s time we all learn to live with this virus."
San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Sanders stood by the county's decision to ask businesses to require vaccinations or weekly testing.
"We appreciate the County’s leadership and efforts to help decrease the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant. The Chamber has encouraged people to get vaccinated since made available. It is the best way to ensure businesses can safely stay open," Sanders said in a statement, adding that the public should be patient with employers as they navigate decisions on vaccine verifications."
He encouraged businesses to explore their options to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to learn more about the chamber's Time to Vaccinate campaign.
Gonzalo Quintero, Ed.D, or "Dr. Q," as he likes to be called, is the co-owner of the Tavern at the Vogue in Chula Vista. He took a deep breath before reacting to the county's recommendation.
“There’s something wrong with that equation. You’re putting a lot of strain on the individual worker," he said.
Quintero wonders if the business community's voice was considered in making the decision.
“My frustration comes from a lot of these decisions were made without consulting the business community. We know that if we don’t keep the community safe, we don’t keep our staff safe, there’s going to be no one to service. We understand that.”
However, he's worried about what impact it would have on employees who would likely have to be tested on their own time.
“If you want people to be tested every day or weekly, what is that going to cost the individual, not just in money but in time,” he said. “You’re asking them to not just work 30-to-40 hours a week. You’re asking them to take their spare time, their free time to find a place that’s testing, go take the test, wait on results. You’re adding to their anxiety.”
The former educator said he’d like more of a heads-up and to be a part of the conversation with government leaders before they make decisions. If not, he simply needs more information.
“We know how to stay compliant with that A we have in the window,” he said pointing to the health department rating. “We need to make sure that there is a very clear, very concise guideline. Something we can point to and easily follow.”
While the County’s recommendation is about keeping people safe at a time when the virus is spreading, Quintero said it shouldn’t be the business owner’s responsibility.
“You’re making that much more difficult for people just to exist.”
Quintero said he believes most, if not all, of his employees were vaccinated. However, he said they still wear masks while serving customers.
As COVID-19 cases tick upward, more virus testing sites have opened county-wide, allowing for up to 6,500 tests daily in the region. Dr. McDonald reminded the public that regardless of vaccination status, it is crucial to get tested if you experience COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, a cough, fatigue, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea runny nose or a loss in taste and smell.
"I think it’s very important to emphasize that anyone who has symptoms that are consistent with COVID, even if they’re very mild, should get tested as soon as possible," he said.
To learn more about testing or to see a schedule, click here.