TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa city employees have until Sept. 30 to get their COVID-19 vaccine or show a valid medical or religious reason why they can't, Mayor Jane Castor said Wednesday.
This will affect about 4,700 people.
The details come after a spokesperson for Castor on Tuesday said the mayor sent out a letter Tuesday evening informing employees of the vaccine mandate, which does come with an alternative.
During a news conference Wednesday morning, Castor said any employees who are not vaccinated after that date will be required to wear an N-95 mask and take a COVID-19 test once a week.
“This decision may not be the most popular, but it is the right thing to do,” said Castor.
Castor says employees who show proof of antibodies from regular tests will be exempt from being required to take a vaccine.
The mayor later clarified that the deadline for getting the vaccine applies to being fully vaccinated, either with the two-dose Moderna or FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine or the one-dose Johnson and Johnson shot.
"We're not talking termination, it's not going to happen," Castor said when asked about whether anyone will be fired for refusing to take the vaccine.
Right now, the mayor estimates only about 40 percent of city workers are vaccinated. That, she says, must change.
“I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren't going to be people that are going to be adamantly against this,” said the mayor. “And we will deal with those individuals.”
Castor, flanked by union reps, says she’s working with the city’s labor, police, and fire department. They were still negotiating, but close to ironing out an agreement, she said.
“It’s been a huge issue. It’s been a huge burden for our workforce,” said Castor. “Individuals who have contracted COVID. Individuals who’ve had to be quarantined because of it. Very, very large numbers.”
Local health leaders support the decision.
“Vaccines allow our city to function,” said TGH Physician Dr. Jason Wilson. “Vaccines allow us the freedom to move about. That’s why these vaccines are so important.”
Castor says she didn’t run the idea past Gov. Ron DeSantis and doesn’t think she legally she needed to.
The announcement, streamed live on social media, got some support. Still, others demanded a “recall”, labeling the policy “ridiculous”, and the mayor - a “tyrant."
“How about the freedom of your coworkers? The freedom of the people sitting next to them who have been vaccinated and may have comorbidities?” she asked. “And COVID-19 can be a life-threatening issue for them. They have rights as well.”
Asked whether Tampa is prepared to deal with a potential exodus of city workers, Mayor Castor said they had not gone down that road yet, did not anticipate terminations, and plans to work with people who feel who feel the vaccine is not in their best interest.
The mayor says the vaccine rule applies to city employees, not its independent contractors.
While Tampa becomes the first municipality in the Tampa Bay region to require vaccinations for its workers, it’s not the first in the state. Leon County, Orange County, and the City of Delray Beach are also reportedly requiring vaccinations for their employees.
Castor's office, in a news release, said the decision was made due to the "alarming surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant."
Watch the full news conference here: