The Half Moon Bay City Council on Tuesday voted to move forward with a mandate for city employees and contractors to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. The move is a step further than what many jurisdictions on the Peninsula are doing, and unlike San Mateo County’s vaccine mandate, Half Moon Bay’s version does not allow for an option for workers to submit negative weekly tests in lieu of proof of vaccination.
The decision allows city staff to draft a policy that will be reviewed by workers’ unions and the council. City Manager Bob Nisbet said the mandate will include options for medical and religious exemptions and that the city will likely accept physical cards or digital codes as proof of vaccination. Councilmember Harvey Rarback last month requested the council discuss a mandate. He said he believed requiring full vaccination was the safest method to protect residents from COVID-19.
“I don’t want our contractors and Sheriff’s deputies and the people who work for the city to infect other people,” he said.
The council last week reviewed several of the federal vaccine mandates that are being challenged in court. On Nov. 4, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency temporary standard for requiring all private employers with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or do weekly testing. But a U.S. federal appeals court blocked the policy after lawsuits were filed across the county, and OSHA has suspended enforcing the policy because of the pending litigation.
The council then discussed the vaccine mandate in San Mateo County that went into effect on Oct. 15 that makes its staff be either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit a weekly negative test. Mayor Robert Brownstone noted that the county’s mandate was made through negotiations with unions, and raised the possibility the city could potentially face litigation from unions if it didn’t allow for the options of weekly testing.
When vaccines became widely available earlier this year, Half Moon Bay’s city staff were strongly encouraged to receive vaccinations and allowed to schedule appointments during work hours.
“My belief is that the vaccine works, it has been protecting people and lowered the risk of death and contagion,” Councilmember Deborah Penrose said. “It hasn’t made it disappear. There is no 100 percent cure, we know that. But the best we can do is protect ourselves and our fellow citizens by asking for the vaccine mandate.”
Two people who called into the city council meeting opposed a mandate, citing concerns about its efficacy and medical privacy. Councilmember Joaquin Jimenez acknowledged that breakthrough infections post-vaccination were possible, yet stated that a vaccine was still more likely to protect someone compared to weekly testing, which can be inaccurate.
“I don’t know anybody who has died from the vaccine, but I knew people who died from COVID-19 in our community,” he said.
Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock was the sole no vote on the mandate, preferring to follow the county’s approach to allow weekly testing and citing evidence of breakthrough infections and uncertainty about pending litigation within federal courts.
“I believe in vaccinations. I’m vaccinated and would recommend it to anybody,” she said.