TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a Wednesday press conference that all city employees are to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.
"My job is to ensure the health and well-being of our team here in the city, and that's why we're making that decision and we're implementing the COVID-19 vaccine for all our employees so that we can keep them safe," Castor said.
Castor said the requirement for city employees comes as cases of COVID-19 surge across the country due to the delta variant. The requirement includes all full-time city employees, including union members.
"This COVID-19 surge is a crisis threatening our community, and the most effective way to halt the spread is with vaccinations. We need to take this step to protect one another and our community, and I am so grateful to the dedicated city of Tampa employees who have worked so hard during this difficult time," Mayor Castor said.
Castor said she's met with the unions and said there are additional details and options that will be worked out.
"This decision may not be the most popular, but it is the right thing to do for all of our employees," Castor said.
The president of the union representing general city employees said they have been encouraging vaccination, but they assure people they will continue to negotiate options for those who are opposed to vaccination.
“We were able to voice our concerns due to the direction that the city was going in, and that we also will continue to negotiate the options. That’s the biggest keyword, it’s ‘options.’ So it’s not a mandate saying everyone has to, we have been encouraging vaccination for months, but now we’re at a point where we have to take stronger steps in getting the people vaccinated,” said Stephen Simon, President of the ATU Local 1464.
When asked if the city would terminate anyone who refused to get the vaccine Castor said, "that's not going to happen."
"I'm not naive enough to think that there aren't going to be people that are going to be adamantly against this," Castor said. "We're going to work with individuals who feel that this vaccine is not in their best interest."
City employees who have not been vaccinated will be required to wear an N95 mask and will be tested for COVID once a week, and they will have to show those results each week. Castor added employees can show proof of having COVID-19 antibodies and that will suffice.
The mayor was joined by Dr. Jason Wilson, Associate Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Tampa General Hospital and associate professor at USF Health.
Dr. Wilson said Tampa General is seeing a high volume of patients with COVID. He said about 250 patients are admitted with COVID on any given day and 85-90% of them are unvaccinated.
Dr. Wilson added that most of the vaccinated patients who are being hospitalized are transplant patients or others with significant immunosuppression.
"We've seen really good evidence that these vaccines work," Dr. Wilson said. "I know there's a lot of confusing messages out there right now around whether the vaccines are working or whether they're effective. The vaccines are working. The vaccines are effective."