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Sonoma County courts to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for all employees; judges already inoculated

Workers will have 45 days to show they’ve been vaccinated.|

Sonoma County Superior Court administrators announced Monday they will require all courthouse employees to be vaccinated within 45 days or lose their jobs.

The announcement came just hours after the federal Food & Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which had been under emergency use authorization.

Last week, Sonoma County Supervisors approved an order requiring the county’s approximately 4,400 workers get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing in an effort to slow the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Now it appears court employees may not have the option of testing; the announcement made no mention of any option other than taking the vaccine to remain employed.

Neither Presiding Judge Bradford DeMeo nor Court Executive Officer Arlene Junior could be reached for additional information. A representative of the court employees’ union didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Although the details of the court’s requirement must be negotiated with the unionized employees, more public and even private employers are moving to mandate their employees be vaccinated against the virus that has killed 344 people as of Sunday in Sonoma County since last year.

Earlier this month, county public health officials said they will require all area first responders — law enforcement, fire and emergency medical employees — to be inoculated by Sept. 1 or be tested weekly.

Santa Rosa interim city manager Jeff Kolin said the City Council will consider a similar vaccination policy for the city's 1,250 city employees at its Aug. 31 meeting.

County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase issued a recommendation that all local employers make COVID-19 vaccinations a condition of employment.

The state has ordered all K-12 school staff to provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing came as well, making California the first state in the nation to impose such a requirement, in effect for both public and private campuses.

“Courts must protect the people we serve,” DeMeo said in a statement announcing the new policy. “By ensuring a safe work environment, through mandatory vaccination, the court is protecting both its employees who provide essential public services and those who are required to come into a courthouse.”

Junior said that because court employees are considered disaster service workers, they are required to deliver statutorily mandated, time-sensitive and emergency services in times of emergencies such as the pandemic.

“In addition, people who enter our courthouses are required, and many times ordered, to come to court, so the court must do everything possible to protect our workforce and the public we serve,” she said in the statement.

The court’s new policy allows those with a verified medical condition or those with a confirmed sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from taking the vaccine to request a waiver.

The Sonoma County Superior Court system includes multiple courthouses whose employees serve the criminal and civil court systems and the juvenile court process, including clerks, administrative staff, lawyers and judges.

DeMeo said that although judges are elected officials and thus not subject to employee policies, all of Sonoma County’s judges and commissioners, including retired judges on fill-in assignments, are fully vaccinated.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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