Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been dealing with Covid and its variants for 18 months now. The virus has taken a great toll on so many of us. Emotionally. Physically. Financially. Many on our city team have contracted the virus. Many have gotten extremely ill. And too many have died.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Our organization, our community, like communities around the globe, has been diminished.
However, despite the state’s relaxed approached to the virus and the recent spike in cases due to the Delta variant, we are, in some ways, better off today than we were one year ago. We now understand how the virus is contracted, how it impacts us and how to treat it. And we have proven vaccines that have prevented this pandemic from killing even more of us.
The science is clear, as any credible health expert or physician will tell you. The vaccines work. Anyone who tells you that the vaccine will kill you, that it will allow you to be traced by implanting a microchip, or that it will alter your DNA, is lying to you.
Likewise, anyone who tells you that the vaccine will completely protect you from even getting Covid is also lying to you.
Once vaccinated, your chances of getting the virus are significantly reduced, but more importantly, your chances of being hospitalized, or worse, of dying, are extremely rare. That is the truth.
Vaccines remain our best defense against Covid and our best way out of this pandemic, and we are now requiring the vaccine of all new city employees.
Further, we are allowing two hours of paid leave for each vaccination received during work hours. And this leave does not count against your accruals. Additionally, emergency paid sick leave will be made available to you if you receive the vaccine and happen to have any side effects causing you to miss time from work.
This leave also would not count against your accruals. Lastly, if you are vaccinated, test positive for Covid, or are required to quarantine, you will be paid emergency paid sick leave up to 80 hours.
However, if you have not been vaccinated and either test positive for Covid or are required to quarantine, you are not eligible for emergency paid sick leave.
Recently, President Joe Biden announced a federal vaccine mandate that will apply to roughly 80 million Americans.
However, it appears as if OSHA, who will oversee and enforce the mandate, only controls enforcement over state and city employees in about 28 states, and Florida is not one of them.
So, this mandate, as currently announced, will not apply to City of St Petersburg employees.
Aside from the actions of the President, many leaders in both the public and private sector have mandated vaccines for their workforces. Some have mandated vaccines and terminated those employees who refused to be vaccinated. Others have mandated vaccines but allowed opt-outs via more frequent testing.
While the opt-out option may be the only option they feel is available to them, I am not convinced such an approach achieves the goal of a fully vaccinated, and therefore healthier workforce.
The good news is that more than 70 percent of Pinellas County residents aged 12 and up have received at least one vaccine dose.
The number of employees testing positive is slowly beginning to trend down.
And based on your disclosures about getting vaccinated, and our hunch that there are many in our organization who are vaccinated but have not voluntarily disclosed such, we think that maybe half of us have received the vaccination.
That’s good, but not great news, because half is still not enough.
Whether because of politics and all the disinformation thrown our way, or historical mistrusts of government and vaccinations, too many on our team remain unvaccinated – which is perpetuating the virus and keeping it alive. And even worse – it’s killing employees and recent retirees. It’s hurting family members, friends, and co-workers.
While I applaud all those in the public and private sector who have followed the science and taken steps to protect the health and safety of their teams and the community, I will not be issuing an employee vaccine mandate.
I’ve spent weeks deliberating on this, talking with my team, talking with health experts and doctors, talking with some of you, including our labor leaders. I have weighed the pros and cons. I have tried to consider the unintended consequences of such a mandate. I have watched as vaccine mandates have been announced elsewhere but fail to move the needle in any meaningful way.
To me, you can’t have a mandate if there is an opt-out unrelated to medical or religious reasons.
You can’t have a mandate without consequences. And what should those consequences be? The answers vary, and they’re all problematic.
Should it be unpaid leave or termination?
There will be legal challenges to such action, which likely will result in those same unvaccinated employees quickly returning to their jobs.
A mayor forcing a genuinely frightened person to get the vaccine or get fired isn’t going to make us a better organization. Further, as the effect of the initial vaccinations wane, booster shots will be needed. Do we also mandate those?
And what kind of bureaucratic infrastructure must be built to create a truly accountable system and a system that protects our private healthcare information?
If a mandate leads to a further reduction in our workforce, as it has in other governments, what impact will that have on city services?
Fewer police and firefighters make us less safe. A smaller pavement maintenance crew equals more and bigger potholes. Less sanitation employees means more trash will be piled up.
Look, I don’t understand or agree with much of the reasoning given by those choosing to remain unvaccinated, and after almost eight years, you should know me.
I have fought like hell to protect this city from not just the virus but from the poor decisions that have exacerbated this virus. I will always do so. But I’m also a pragmatist.
And, after more than 20 years of doing this, I like to think I know what battles to fight. I’m not going to fight my own employees because we need to fight the virus together.
I need you to join me in getting vaccinated if you haven’t already.
This isn’t government telling you what to do. It’s government caring about you and wanting you to be alive and healthy, for us, city residents, your friends, and most importantly, for your family.
Yes, it is your body, your choice.
But much like riding in a car without a seat belt or getting behind the wheel of a car after too many drinks, your choice has consequences. Your choice impacts not only you, it impacts your community, but more importantly, your family.
Get the shot.
Wear a mask when inside city facilities and around others, but also get the shot. It works.
If you contract Covid, it may be the very thing standing between you, a lengthy stay in a hospital, and death.
Vaccinated or not, I want to thank each of you for showing up and for doing your jobs well.
We may be diminished, but we’re also growing stronger and more resilient, and we’ll be even more prepared for the next challenge.
Thank you, and please stay healthy.
Mayor Rick Kriseman