The Collegian
Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Richmond issues Oct. 1 vaccination mandate for city employees

All Richmond city employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1 or face termination if they do not comply, Mayor Levar Stoney said in a press conference on Sept. 15.

“If you believe that you’re not going to get vaccinated, then you’re not going to have a job here at the city of Richmond,” he said.

Richmond is the first locality in Virginia to issue a vaccination mandate for its city employees, which was announced on Aug. 4. 

The mandate applies to approximately 3,600 public employees. City employees subject to the mandate include the police, fire, public works, parks and recreation and social services departments, according to the mayor’s office website.

“I would not be surprised if other localities go this route,” said Julian Walker, vice president of communications of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. “The trend is towards more organizations adopting and implementing these policies.”

The VHHA, which advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth, supports vaccine requirements because they believe that the science is clear about the efficacy of the vaccine, Walker said. 

Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order on Aug. 5 that required state employees to be vaccinated, and encouraged localities and private employers to do the same.

“In order to protect the safety of Virginia’s workforce and the people we serve, it is necessary to require state employees to be vaccinated and to encourage other employers to do the same,” Northam wrote in the executive order.

In the Sept. 15 press conference, Stoney said about 99% of city employees had complied with vaccination requirements. Of those who complied, 74% were fully vaccinated, 10% were partially vaccinated and approximately 10% had received an exemption, Stoney said.

City employees who do not comply with the additional grace period for reporting vaccination status will be placed on leave without pay, Acting Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders said during the Aug. 24 press conference.

“We want you to comply because this is about your health -- your safety -- but also what it says to our community,” Stoney said. “We get vaccinated, we put on masks because we show others that we care about them.”

Richmond Public School employees, although not included in the mayor’s mandate, are also required to be vaccinated by Oct. 1, said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras.

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“We are the only division in the region to have a vaccine mandate following the city’s lead for all of our employees, partners, visitors and so on,” Kamras said at the mayor’s press conference.

The city mandate and the RPS mandate grant medical and religious exemptions, according to the statements on their websites.

The response to the school board’s decision to implement the vaccination mandate has been positive, RPS Chief of Staff Michelle Hudacsko said. 

“I think, overwhelmingly, staff understand why this is critical to keep our students safe, especially our youngest students who aren’t eligible for vaccination,” she said.

RPS employees who do not meet the Oct. 1 deadline for vaccination and were not granted an exemption may be subject to loss of employment, according to the RPS 2021 Health and Safety Measures.

Additionally, all nine of the Virginia Department of Health’s strategies for COVID-19 prevention have been implemented at RPS, Kamras said at a press conference.

Vaccinations remain an important part of this prevention strategy in Richmond. Between Jan. 1, 2021 and Aug. 28, 2021, unvaccinated people developed COVID-19 at a rate 9.2 times that of fully vaccinated people, according to the VDH website.

“If you love Richmond, if you love your neighbor, this is the time to go out and get vaccinated,” Stoney said.

The overwhelming majority of people who are currently hospitalized or are testing positive for COVID-19 are people who are unvaccinated, Walker said.

“We have been on an upward trajectory of hospitalizations and new cases and case positivity rate really since early July,” Walker said. “The number we are at right now I would say is higher than the peaks we’ve had last spring and last summer.”

As of Sept. 21, the city of Richmond has a 11.7% positivity of COVID-19 case rates and Henrico county has an 6.4% positivity, according to the VDH website. The transmission level is listed as high in both localities.

The RPS recommendations are based on current guidelines and information available from the Center for Disease Control, the Virginia Department of Education, the VDH and the Richmond City Health Department and are subject to change, according to the RPS 2021 Health and Safety Measures.

“If you want school to stay open, get vaccinated,” Kamras said. 

Contact City & State writer Natasha Sokoloff at natasha.sokoloff@richmond.edu.

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