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COVID: Critical Staff Shortages Possible When Santa Clara Co. Vaccine Mandate Takes Effect

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- The deadline for some emergency workers in Santa Clara County to vax up or stay home is fast approaching, and if they don't show up, there could be gaps in critical staffing positons.

A health order takes effect on Tuesday for all workers in so-called "high risk" occupations to provide proof of vaccinations and boosters, or they can't report for work. That includes medical workers and firefighters.

"We very, very much hope that people will go ahead and get their booster shot, it's simple to do," said James Williams, Santa Clara County Counsel.

The order has been looming for months, and fire departments and other agencies have been working to verify that their employees comply, but gaps remain.

"We did see over a 90 percent vaccination rate originally, and so we are expecting our booster rates to be similar," said Erica Ray, a San Jose Fire Department spokesperson.

The department says 634 firefighters have been fully vaccinated Which leaves 42 who are not according to published staffing levels of 676. The department doesn't know precisely how many vaccinated, but not boosted firefighters there are.

To take up the slack if firefighters cannot report to work, the city plans to cover shifts with overtime.

"We have been reyling on our members to fill in with extra hours. So we are very
confident in our ability to offer those critical services to our community," Ray said.

Last week, firefigthers from several agencies voiced concerns that relying on overtime to cover shifts is dangerous and called on supervisors to override the health department and rescind the mandate.

"We have a critical staffing crisis in our EMS system and the hospitals. The public is now in jeopardy," said San Jose Firefighter Barry Arata.

The county is making firefighter's employers responsible for complying with the mandate, not the firefighters themselves.

"We will be proactive in reaching out and making sure that folks have complied with the order," Williams said.

Consequences for non-compliance could range from misdemeanor charges to monetary fines.

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