Fresno

Fresno puts the squeeze on unvaccinated city employees with weekly tested mandate

Fresno City Hall joined a growing chorus of government agencies and healthcare employers in sending a message to all city employees Wednesday: get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing. 

As the Delta variant is leading to a rise in cases throughout Fresno County – COVID-19 hospitalizations are at its highest since March – Mayor Jerry Dyer announced that the city’s new policy is in line with the State of California’s suggested policy that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week. 

Dyer stressed that the city’s policy is not per se a vaccine mandate. Employees are not required to get vaccinated. 

“In terms of the City of Fresno policy, we are not yet – in consultation with the council – at that point where we believe we need to mandate a vaccination for our employees,” Dyer said. “However, we do feel very strong about the fact that we need to test our unvaccinated employees on a weekly basis, and we are going to do that.” 

The city will explore implementing rapid COVID-19 testing to allow for a quick turnaround on results, which could give the city the ability to test employees when they arrive for work and make an expeditious determination on whether or not the employee should return home and quarantine. 

Dyer said the policy will be in full effect by Sept. 7. 

“We’re going to continue to encourage people, whether they’re City of Fresno employees or people in our community, to get vaccinated. We’re not here today to question why people do not get vaccinated,” Dyer said. 

“We’re not here to vilify those people, whether they’re employees or other. We know people have a reason for that. It’s a personal choice in their life that they have made. It could be as a result of health reasons. It could be religious beliefs, or just a fear of the unknown and not believing that the vaccine has been around long enough to be adequately tested.” 

Dyer said the city will not require test vaccinated employees for two reasons: Vaccinated people are not likely to end up in the hospital, and that would remove the incentive of not having to wear a face mask indoors at City Hall once vaccinated. 

“Our No. 1 goal is to minimize people from going to the hospital,” Dyer said. “Yes, we could test everyone. We could require masks of everyone, but we’re trying to take a very measured approach and incentivize people who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated.” 

Out of the 4,149 total employees in the City of Fresno, Dyer said a minimum of 36 percent are already vaccinated. 

The city is unsure of the exact number of vaccinated employees, but Dyer said he was hopeful that the total was actually closer to 50 percent. 

There have been 446 city employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and currently 70 employees are in quarantine due to either having the virus or exposure to someone who was positive. 

Dyer said the city will encourage employees to work from home. 

“This is a measured approach. We will continue to monitor the numbers very closely over the coming weeks,” Dyer said. 

“That is, how many of our employees are being quarantined? How many are testing positive? What is the ICU capacity? How many of our ICU beds are being occupied by COVID patients? How many of our total beds are being occupied by COVID patients? Those are the indicators that’s going to determine how we move forward as a city and some of the other decisions that we may need to make.” 

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.