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Pima College mandates COVID vaccines for all 2,500 employees by Jan. 4

Pima Community College is requiring its 2,500-plus employees to get their COVID-19 vaccinations by Jan. 4 , with the Governing Board unanimously approving the mandate to "comply with pending federal requirements."

The school's leaders voted for the mandate in response a Biden administration policy that all federal contractors to have vaccinated employees.

A White House executive order came in early September requiring vaccination of workers connected to federal contracts. PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert said during Wednesday's board meeting that the college has about $4 million dollars in federal contracts — including a $3.5 million contract to train paramedics for the U.S. Air Force — and that PCC would have to mandate vaccinations or see a huge revenue loss.

Board member Demion Clinco said “this is something that the college needs to do.” With the entire PCC board fully vaccinated along with most of the college’s administrators, Clinco said they’ve “tried to lead by example.”

“I think it’s important that to protect each other and to protect our students and to protect everyone in our community college family, it’s important that we do this thing together,” he said. Most of the board members confirmed they have their booster shots as well.

There are 998 PCC employees who have already self-reported that they are fully vaccinated, according to PCC numbers reported Oct. 29. The rest of those employees have to get their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine by Jan. 4, a deadline set by the White House for all businesses with over 100 employees.

For the 75,000 students that PCC hosts across five campus, vaccines are not required unless they’re employees. The Maricopa Community College District, with over 12,000 employees and 200,000 students, made the same announcement earlier in the week, as they’re also a federal contractor.

A mask mandate went into effect on PCC campuses and in most of their indoor spaces in mid-August, shortly after Arizona State University said that masks would be required on their campus. The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University quickly followed suit.

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Since then, those public universities have also initiated vaccine mandates for their employees, almost a month before PCC, but none have required it for their students.

Pima County and the city of Tucson also have vaccine mandates. The Tucson Unified School District has had a mask mandate since early August, before universities and colleges, and has kept it as districts like Marana have lifted theirs. TUSD does not, however, have an employee or student vaccine mandate.

On Friday, Pima County recorded six new COVID deaths and 643 new cases, bringing the county total to 2,792 deaths and 150,056 cases. Arizona reported 51 deaths and 4,447 news cases.

The county is experiencing what County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen calls a “consistently elevated number of cases” that it has been experiencing since the start of K-12 school years in late July.

Community spread of COVID is still “high,” according to the Centers for Disease Control, which means there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 individuals over a seven-day period. That rate for the county on Friday was 305 new cases per 100,000.

About 60 percent of the total county population is fully vaccinated, and 69 percent have one dose, although those numbers have hardly changed in the past few months. About 71 percent of the 18 and older county population is fully vaccinated, and 80 percent of that local group has had their first dose. Also, the county is reporting a 13 percent positivity rate on Friday, which reflects the number of COVID tests that are coming back positive in the county.

The county reported 13 ICU beds available as of Wednesday. County health officials usually report that between 20-25 percent of ICU beds used in the county are being used by COVID patients and that typically more than 90 percent of those patients are unvaccinated.

PCC hosts pop-up vaccine clinics in partnership with Pima County, and those clinics also offer booster shots for all three vaccinations types.

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the sort of training PCC provides under contract with the U.S. Air Force due to an error by a Pima spokesperson.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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