RICHMOND, Va. -- All Richmond city employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1 or face disciplinary action, Mayor Levar Stoney announced Wednesday.
"We think it’s necessary to keep our employees safe, and also give confidence to the residents who are interacting with our employees on a regular basis," Stoney said during a news conference.
The vaccine mandate applies to 3,600 city employees like police officers, utility workers and staff at City Hall, according to officials.
However, the mandate does not apply to Richmond Public Schools employees -- yet.
"To protect the health and safety of our students and staff, we are seriously considering this step as well," RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras wrote in an email to WTVR CBS 6.
Additionally, the mandate does not apply to Richmond Ambulance Authority workers or the roughly 500 Constitutional employees, who work for the sheriff, the commonwealth's attorney, registrar, treasurer or the courts, officials said.
Richmond employees must provide documentation of their vaccination status by Aug. 18, officials said.
Employees cannot opt out-of vaccination, official says
Medical and religious exemptions will be allowed, however those employees who don't get vaccinated will have to adhere to the Virginia Department of Health's (VDH) guidelines for mask-wearing and take part in regular testing for the virus.
City officials noted that employees cannot voluntarily opt out-of vaccination and submit to mask wearing and regular testing as an alternative.
"There is time from now until August 18th for folks to get vaccinated,” Stoney said. "We will find ways to support them, and to ensure they get vaccinated so they can be safe, not only as an employee, but as a member of our community."
Employees who are already vaccinated need to show proof through VDH, and those who aren't need to start the process immediately so that they are fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, officials said.
"We take this step not only to ensure the health and safety of our employees and their families, but also to safeguard the comfort and well-being of residents, customers, visitors and the public at large,” Stoney said. “The vaccine is our greatest tool to save lives and truly beat this pandemic."
The mayor revealed that only around 40-50% of city employees are vaccinated.
When asked what would happen if an employee refused to get the vaccine, Stoney said there would be “HR disciplinary action that will be taken for those who do not comply.”
Health director: Delta variant infection rate is 'about 1,000 times greater'
The move comes as Virginia health officials warn the highly-contagious delta variant now accounts for 70-75% of COVID cases in the Commonwealth.
“This delta variant revs up the replication of the virus, the actual viral load that somebody carries when they’re infected is about 1,000 times greater than the alpha variant,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts and the state’s vaccine coordinator.
Avula said that since vaccinated people appear to spread delta as well, he is very concerned about rising cases and hospitalizations in Virginia.
"I think there is a way, a context for a return to in-person settings," Avula said. "But I think it really has to be predicated on vaccination and then on behavior change."