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Tucson passes new COVID-19 policy that may require vaccines for all city employees

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TUCSON (KVOA) - City of Tucson employees may soon be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and the Tucson City Council approved a new vaccine policy on Friday.

On July 15, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order, prohibiting universities and community colleges from requiring masks, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, submitting COVID-19 vaccination documents and taking COVID-19 tests. The governor then doubled down on restricting mask mandates in the Grand Canyon State by passing House Bill 2770 - which allows businesses in Arizona to not be required to enforce any mask mandate - and House Bill 2898 - which bans schools from implementing mask mandates statewide.

After Ducey declared that Arizona will continue to not allow mask mandates despite the Centers for Disease Control Prevention updating its guidelines to recommend mask use for all residents while indoors in response to the nationwide surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant, Romero moved to require the use of masks at all city facilities on July 28.

During Friday's emergency meeting, Tucson Mayor and Council discussed mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its employees.

City of Tucson Manager Michael Ortega recommended the city implement a vaccine mandate for its employees after a recent survey suggested that about 1,000 city employees are not vaccinated against the COVID-19 vaccine. On Friday, the city approved the ordinance 6-1, with Ward 4 Councilmember Nikki Lee voting against the measure.

"The City of Tucson and me as the mayor of our great city and as an employer, we have the legal duty and legal obligation to provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for its employees. If this were a decision about personal health, that would be one thing," Romero said. "The decision to not get vaccinated does not just affect personal health, it unjustly exposes others to the risk of illness, including co-workers and members of the public. It puts children under the age of 12 who are not eligible to receive the vaccine at an increased rate of exposure to COVID-19. As a mother of an 11-year-old that cannot be vaccinated, I cannot do that to my child."

Under the approved Ordinance No. 11869, the city will have until Aug. 20 to receive proof of vaccination from at least 750members of its unvaccinated workforce.

If the city fails to reach that threshold by Aug. 20, all city employees have until 4 p.m. on Aug. 24 to provide proof that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or they will face a five-day suspension without pay.

"Just this morning, we found out about a father-in-law of an employee we have here in the mayor's office that died of COVID-19. He was a veteran. He was vaccinated," Romero said. "But he was immunodeficient. It is unfair for others. Personal liberties, once they go behind your personal liberties and inhibit the health and safety of others are no longer just your liberties. That is when other people infringe on others liberties and choice."

In addition, the ordinance will allow the city to offer certain incentives such as a floating holiday and 80-hour pandemic leave. The ordinance also listed both medical and religious reasons for its workers to be exempted from the vaccine mandate.

"Some of my concerns have been, especially with the influx of advocacy we heard today, if we are opening the door for a lot of people who do not want to work for the city anymore, I have concerns with our ability to deliver core services," Lee said. "People are making the choices they are making. Incentives and disincentives might not even get us to the numbers we need to get at."

Over at the county level, Pima County Board of Supervisors failed to approve a vaccine mandate for all county employees on Tuesday.

On Friday, Arizona reported over 3,000  additional virus cases for the first time in six months and 23 deaths. This brings the state's total to 958,992 cases and a death toll of 18,435. In Pima County, 50% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state.

To register for a vaccine appointment, visit podvaccine.azdhs.gov or azhealth.gov/findvaccine, or call 1-844-542-8201.

To learn more about the vaccination sites, visit azdhs.gov.

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Anthony Victor Reyes

Anthony Victor Reyes is the lead digital content producer at News 4 Tucson. The award-winning journalist previously worked as a community reporter in Jasper County, Iowa.

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