In a shift that comes after directions from the City Council and negotiations with the city's labor unions, Palo Alto is following other public agencies that have already instituted a vaccine mandate for employees. The city and county of San Francisco instituted a vaccine mandate in June, becoming one of the nation's first large cities to do so, while Santa Clara County followed suit in late July.
The Palo Alto City Council, which was on its summer break for part of June and all of July, began pursuing a vaccine mandate shortly after reconvening in early August. On Aug. 9, council members discussed the topic with staff in a closed session. Council members had communicated at that time their desire to work with the employee unions to "implement required vaccinations and a mandatory COVID-19 testing program for the workforce for the safety of our community and employees," according to Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, the city's chief communications officer.
Much like Santa Clara County's mandate, Palo Alto's policy includes medical and religious exemptions. Palo Alto will require all employees who are unvaccinated to get tested for COVID-19 twice per week.
The new policy also creates a testing regimen for each employee group, with the frequency of tests varying by group. Firefighters and police officers would undergo regular testing, regardless of vaccination status. Vaccinated employees in other departments are encouraged, though not required, to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests.
The Palo Alto Police Department, which over the summer had a lower reported rate of vaccinations than other neighboring jurisdictions, is starting to implement its vaccine and testing mandates this week, according to Horrigan-Taylor. All sworn officers will be required to get tests on the first and third days of their shifts.
The Fire Department, which has a 96% vaccination rate, will require testing every six days, with tests occurring before the start of a firefighter's shift.
"This policy was adopted after careful consideration of the recommendations from public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State of California Public Health, and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department," the city's announcement of the new policy stated. "The city will continue to monitor conditions and consider the next steps to address the ongoing pandemic."
So far, about 82% of the city's workforce is vaccinated, according to Horrigan-Taylor. In the Police Department, however, the rate is currently 74%. While this is an improvement from June, when only 60% of the Police Department's employees reported being vaccinated, it remains below the city's overall rate.
The new vaccine mandate seeks to change that. According to Horrigan-Taylor, the city anticipates full workforce implementation by Sept. 15 and, at the latest, by Sept. 30.