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Tucson vaccine mandate defies odds

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 7:36 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - When the Mayor and Tucson City Council voted 6-1 in August to pass a vaccine mandate for its nearly 4,000 employees, it became the first in the state of Arizona to do so.

The workers had to be vaccinated or be exempt by agreeing to a weekly test by Dec. 1, or be terminated.

The blow back was quick and fierce starting with Gov. Doug Ducey. He demanded the city rescind the mandate because the Arizona legislature passed a bill prohibiting it. The courts rejected his demand.

Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich threatened to withhold $115 million in state shared revenue if the city didn’t forego the mandate. He too, lost in the courts.

The Arizona legislature, led by Republican Kelly Townsend asked for an investigation to overturn it. That too, lost in court.

Even Tucson’s police union went to court to try to stop the city from enforcing it but was rebuffed.

So after three and a half months, where does the city stand on its mandate?

99% compliance with the mandate.

“I believe that the vaccine mandate has been overwhelmingly successful,” said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.

The deadline for employees to comply or be terminated is tomorrow at 5 p.m.

“Just this morning we received a report from the city manager that only 33 employees were non-compliant and out of those 33, 13 are partially vaccinated,” Romero said. “So that is down to 20 employees out of 3900+ employees in the city of Tucson.”

And she added, “I would call that very successful.”

But Romero won’t take the credit for the success naming the support from the council, legal opinions from City Attorney Mike Rankin, City Manager Michael Ortega and of course, city workers themselves.

In the middle of September, according to city numbers, 684 employees remained unvaccinated, many of them in Tucson Police, Fire and the water department.

But as time went by and more workers realized the city was serious about the impending deadline and either were vaccinated or applied for a religious or medical exemption.

308 of the employees in those three departments have been granted exemptions meaning they will be subject to weekly testing.

“We were concerned about the possibility of losing public safety personnel and losing important front line employees,” said Mayor Romero. “But at the end of the day, I understand…the entire team understands that there is science behind what we were asking our employees to do.”

Still, with the success of the mandate program, the Mayor says the city must remain vigilant.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” she said. “We see the threat of the omicron variant possibly already in the United States, the numbers are still going up in Arizona, there’s still a lot of work to do.”

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