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Most city of Tucson, federal gov't workers vaccinated against COVID

Despite rhetorical fury and legal challenges from Republican leaders, and worries that mandates would fail, most city of Tucson and federal government workers have gotten their COVID-19 vaccine shots or sought exemptions, according to data released this week.

In city government, 88 percent of the workforce has complied with the mandate and been vaccinated already.

Tucson City Manager Mike Ortega outlined the city's success with numbers as of Tuesday, and said that more than 98 percent of city employees have either been fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or successfully sought an exemption to the rule — either by citing a sincerely held religious belief and practice, or providing a medical exemption signed by a doctor.

Among city workers, just 51 individuals refused to be start their vaccination process, or asked for an exemption — just 1.3 percent of the city's 3,920 permanent workers.

In August, the City Council instituted a requirement that all city government employees be vaccinated before the end of the year. On Oct. 19, they went further, requiring that the city's roughly 3,900 employees get vaccinated or seek an exemption by Dec. 1 or face losing their jobs. As that measure was put into place, around 300 city employees had "chosen not to be in compliance" with the requirement because they did not get a shot by Aug. 24, and were therefore subject to a five-day suspension.

By this week, more than 3,454 employees were fully vaccinated, according to data from the city manager's office. Another 380 employees had successfully applied for exemptions, and 35 employees were partially vaccinated.

Among departments at the city, the Fire Department has the lowest vaccination rate, with just 76 percent of employees fully vaccinated. Around 143 employees sought an exemption to the rule, and nine employees are not vaccinated.

Similarly, the Police Department has a vaccination rate of 86 percent, and around 121 employees sought an exemption, and eight employees may be facing termination.

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Among employees of the Tucson Police Department, which includes civilian staff well as uniformed officers, fewer than one percent have refused to be vaccinated or seek an accommodation.

96% of federal workers have gotten COVID shots or exemption

More than 96 percent of federal employees complied with the federal government's vaccination mandate—either because they received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or have applied for an exemption—before a deadline set by President Joe Biden to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus, White House officials said Wednesday.

In September, President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring federal employees to be fully vaccinated, or to seek an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Some federal employees also received extensions, and the White House said within the last 75 days, the federal government achieved a 96.5 percent compliance rate.

The White House said that 92 percent of employees had a least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, and after the next three weeks, that rate will likely increase as many employees seek their second shot, completing their vaccinations before the end of the year.

"This is across the largest workforce in the United States, with more than 3.5 million employees working in every part of the country and around the world covered by this requirement," the White House said. "And the federal government has implemented its vaccination requirement without disruptions to critical services people depend on."

Among the two dozen federal departments, the lowest vaccination rate was at the Department of Agriculture where around 86 percent of employees were vaccinated with at least one dose. Meanwhile, among employees at the Agency for International Development nearly 98 percent were vaccinated, and more than 99 percent were either vaccinated, had at least one dose, or had applied for an exemption.

"This week’s deadline wasn’t an end point," the White House said. "For those employees who are not yet in compliance, agencies are beginning a period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps, consistent with guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and the Office of Personnel Management."

"At any point, if an employee gets their first shot or submits an exception request, agencies will pause further enforcement to give the employee a reasonable amount of time to become fully vaccinated or to process the exception request. This next stage of the process will not result in disruptions to Government services and operations and will result in more employees becoming vaccinated."

Among employees of Homeland Security, more than 95 percent of the agency's 240,000 employees had complied with the vaccination mandate, and 88.9 percent of employees were already vaccinated.

Even among employees of U.S. Border Patrol, where potentially thousands of agents hinted they would refuse the Biden administration's plan to vaccinate most of the federal workforce, around 79 percent said they were fully vaccinated last week.

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In an email, the head of the Border Patrol, Raul L. Ortiz, said Monday that 79 percent of all employees were fully vaccinated, based on data from Nov. 17. Around 16 percent were not vaccinated, but were waiting for a pending accommodation request, reported The Monitor.

Ortiz said that 5 percent of Border Patrol agents were not in compliance with the vaccination policy, including 3 percent who were not fully vaccinated and hadn't filed a reasonable accommodation request and the remaining 2 percent who were unresponsive to the agency.

CBP would not comment on the Monitor’s reporting, and told the Tucson Sentinel that requests for comment on the new data should go to the White House.

The White House said that the current data was a "snapshot in time."

"In the days and weeks ahead, employees will continue to provide vaccination information and documentation, as well as request exceptions, and agencies will continue to process and review that information and documentation, and those requests," officials said. "Over time, new hires into the Federal Government will, similarly, submit vaccination information and documentation, or exception requests, which agencies will process."

"Each step of this process will result in more Federal employees becoming vaccinated."

The news comes as the Biden administration moves to push federal contractors and businesses with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination rates, and as Republican politicians have fought the federal government over the policy.

On Monday, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich expanded his lawsuit in an attempt to block the Biden administration's mandate, this time enlisting two Phoenix-area unions, including the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association and the United Phoenix Firefighters Association. He previously launched an effort to undo the mandate for health-care workers.

Among workers of the Arizona-based Banner Health, which has 30 acute-care hospitals spread across six states, 97 percent out of 62,000 employees and associated doctors were vaccinated by Nov. 2, and the hospital network gave remaining employees until Nov. 30 to comply with the requirements.

Brnovich, who needs to polish his GOP credentials in his run at U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, has gone after the Biden administration with hammer and tongs, using his position as the state AG to attempt to force the White House to halt its mandate, continue building the Trump-era border wall, and reject prosecutorial discretion when it comes to immigration enforcement.

"I have been saying that this unconstitutional COVID-19 vaccine mandate will cost honest and hardworking people their livelihoods, and that’s unacceptable," Brnovich said. “It would also be a terrible injustice to our first responders who have always been there for us. If allowed to stand, this mandate will ultimately jeopardize all Arizonans who depend on these brave men and women to keep our communities safe."

On Nov. 12, Brnovich demanded Gov. Doug Ducey help his lawsuit and called on the Arizona Legislature to "resurrect" series of laws that blocked local governments from implementing mask and vaccination mandates and were blocked by judges in the Maricopa County Superior Court and by the state supreme court. More pointedly, he also demanded Ducey order Arizona Department of Health Services to block local governments, including counties and cities, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

Even as Republicans like Brnovich have challenged vaccination mandates, the Biden administration moved forward to implement a rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to require business with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or COVID-19 tests by Jan. 4.

While nearly 82 percent of adults, and over 74 percent of those eligible for the vaccine, including children 5-11 have gotten one dose, OSHA's vaccination rule became its own lightning rod for legal action, and faced an immediate challenge by Republican-led states. Two weeks ago, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with a lower court's ruling, and said that the Biden administration's OSHA rule was "staggeringly overboard."

"The mandate is a one-size-fits-all sledgehammer that makes hardly any attempt to account for differences in workplaces (and workers)," wrote Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

"The public interest is also served by maintaining our constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions - even, or perhaps particularly, when those decisions frustrate government officials," he wrote.

The circuit court blocked the implementation of the OSHA rule, however, on Tuesday, the Biden administration moved for a lift on the court-ordered stay, and asked the court to consider a masking and testing requirement.

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"As the successful implementation of this requirement across the Federal Government has shown, these requirements work: they increase vaccination rates—leading to a safer, more productive, and efficient workforce," the White House said. "They’re good for workers, good for businesses, and good for the country. That’s why the president has called for businesses to follow the federal government’s lead and put these requirements into place right now."

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A Pima County sheriff's deputy is vaccinated during a clinic in January.

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