Amid the quickening spread of the coronavirus' Delta variant, Pasadena will require all city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once the shots receive federal approval.
City Manager Steve Mermell announced the requirement at a City Council meeting Tuesday, in tandem with another new rule that will again require people in Pasadena to wear masks in public settings indoors.
"When a police officer arrives at your home, a firefighter arrives at your home because you need our assistance, you don’t get to choose if we send the vaccinated ones or the nonvaccinated ones," Mermell said. "The public has to come into contact with city employees. We want the city employees to be healthy, we want the public not to get ill."
The new vaccination requirement comes days after approximately a dozen workers tested positive for COVID-19 and several others were forced to quarantine, city spokesperson Lisa Derderian said.
"Just one testing positive has a domino effect on numerous others," she said. "We need to make sure we’re taking care of our work families because they take it home to their own families if we’re not looking out for them."
The city has more than 2,000 employees, and about 60% of them have self-reported being vaccinated, Derderian said. That rate lags in comparison to the city as a whole, where 80% of residents ages 12 years and older — 97,012 people — are fully vaccinated, according to the city's COVID-19 digital dashboard.
The city operates its own public health department, which is separate from that of Los Angeles County.
"We're fortunate in Pasadena that we are up to 80% in the vaccination rate, but, you know, 20% is still a sizable number, when you multiply that by every community in our region," Mayor Victor Gordo said.
"We can see how we all need to work together in Pasadena as neighbors, but also outside of Pasadena to ensure people are vaccinated. We don’t live in a vacuum, we live in a region where people travel in and out of the city every day. We should be encouraging everyone to vaccinate."
The vaccination requirement will not go into effect until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves at least one of the three vaccines that have been given emergency authorization.
Pasadena is the first Southern California city to issue such a rule; it follows in the steps of San Francisco, which decided last month to issue a similar order for its 35,000 municipal workers.
The University of California system also announced last week it would require vaccines for all students, faculty and others for the fall term.
A more immediate requirement for those in Pasadena is the rule expected to go into effect Wednesday night, mandating masks to be worn at all indoor facilities. The city's public health order follows a similar rule initiated by Los Angeles County last week.
The rate of COVID-19 cases has soared in Pasadena in recent weeks, with the average daily number of confirmed cases up by 240% since July 1, public health officer Dr. Ying-Ying Goh said at Tuesday's meeting. The rate is similar to what was reported in October, just before the deadly winter surge.
When restrictions were eased statewide on June 15, Pasadena recorded about one case per day, Goh said. On Monday, the city's dashboard logged 15 coronavirus cases.
"We’re in a place where it really makes sense to take this step of protection for a while until we can get there again," Goh said.
On July 8, the city reported its first COVID-related death in 98 days, Goh said — an unvaccinated man over 65 with multiple underlying health conditions.
Looming over the discussion Tuesday night was the threat of the more transmissible Delta variant, which has become California's most dominant coronavirus strain. Studies have shown that vaccines currently offered in the U.S. protect against the variant.
The city is pushing its vaccination campaign, giving out $20 gift cards to Vons grocery stores to anyone who receives the shot Tuesday at the Pasadena Public Health Department. Pasadena has administered shots across the city, at local stores, the Rose Bowl, churches and mobile clinics, officials said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.