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In Tucson, nearly half medical and religious exemptions denied

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 8:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - For the city of Tucson, 85% of its nearly 4,000 employees have been vaccinated. But that leaves another 15% who aren’t, and many of them work with the public.

“If you choose as a public servant to essentially tell the public and coworkers that its my way or the highway,” says Ward 6 City Council member Steve Kozachik. “Then I’d say take the highway.”

The city manager’s office released the numbers of how many city workers applied for medical or religious exemptions rather than take the vaccine.

627 workers applied for exemptions but only 317 were approved. And 289 were rejected. Another 24 are under review.

A majority of the applications came from Tucson Police and Fire, the two largest departments in the city.

For the Fire Department, 192 applied for an exemption. 117 were approved and 65 denied. 10 are still pending.

For the Police Department, 194 applied for an exemption. 100 were accepted and 86 were denied. Eight are still pending.

Breaking those numbers down further, for medical exemptions, the Fire Department had 100 applications. 77 were accepted and 17 denied. Four are still pending.

The Police Department had 85 applications for religious exemptions with 67 approved and 17 denied with one still pending.

As far as Medical requests, the Fire Department has 92 with 40 approved and 48 denied with four still pending.

For the Police Department there were 109 requests with 33 accepted and 69 denied with seven pending.

For those not approved for an exemption, according to a memo from Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega, they will have “until next Tuesday, October 5 at 5 p.m., to obtain at least their first dose of COVID vaccine and provide verification of vaccination.”

If they do not, it will be considered a violation of the policy according to the memo.

Even with an exemption, those workers must still wear a mask while on duty and must submit to weekly testing, a program the city will set up next week.

For those who have been denied, there’s a decision to make.

“If you choose not to adhere to the policies we have in place, which have passed legal muster, then find someplace else to work,” said Kozachik.

The more stringent proposals, a five day suspension without pay or possible termination, have been put on hold until the question of mandates is finally settled in the courts.

However, they could be revived when the city meets next Tuesday to discuss its options.

“Some are playing chicken with us, seeing how far we’ll go,” Kozachik said. “And I think that’s a bad roll of the dice on their part.”

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