Santa Ana police officers who interact with residents regularly, often face-to-face, appear to be the least vaccinated for Covid-19 out of all municipal employees — in a city whose Latino population has been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.
This week, county health officials just signaled the region may be headed for another case surge.
According to a recent survey of vaccination rates among unionized city workers, an estimated 65% of unionized Santa Ana police officers are vaccinated.
The labor group with the second least vaccinated employees?
The police management union, at 74%.
City Manager Kristine Ridge, at a Dec. 7 City Council meeting, publicly revealed the results of the vaccination survey sent out to all city employees earlier this month.
A total of 769 employees responded to the city survey, which showed that 100% of the city’s executive leadership team has been vaccinated while some other labor groups’ vaccination progress hovered over 95% of total members.
Council members didn’t react to or discuss the vaccination numbers during the meeting, after Ridge’s update.
Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento didn’t respond to requests for comment on the numbers on Friday, Dec. 10.
City Hall spokesperson Paul Eakins said in an email that those numbers were the most recent ones as of Friday, Dec. 10.
The police officers union, steered by association president Gerry Serrano, represents one of the largest numbers of city employees, followed in size by the number of city workers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Data from a Public Records Act request showed that, at one point in March this year, the police union had more than 1,000 dues-paying members.
Serrano did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment for this story.
County of Orange health officials signaled late last week that they’re bracing for another case surge and the threat of the novel Coronavirus’ Omicron variant.
“I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to take this seriously … the biggest question is how this will impact our hospitals. I would expect at minimum we’re going to see the same rise in hospitalizations as we did in August,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, OC’s deputy health officer, during a Friday, Dec. 10 news media call with reporters that was not broadcast to the public.
The police union has also come out swinging against a vaccine mandate which Santa Ana officials have planned on implementing for months.
“The Association will never accept the violation of anyone’s rights to an unlawful forfeiture of their constitutional rights to choice in medical health,” the union wrote in one public message from August, posted to the social media platform Instagram.
Ridge updated council members on Dec. 7 around the status of a potential City Hall mandate:
“Our Human Resources team had preliminary discussions with the city’s bargaining groups regarding the requirement of vaccination; however, we have not implemented any vaccine requirements and/or testing yet.”
Ridge said some of the reasoning behind that stems from “current litigation at the federal level relating to vaccine and testing requirements by employers.”
Up north, the City of Stanton has already passed such a mandate, approving a vaccination — or once-a-week testing — mandate for all city workers and contractors in September. Its law enforcement services are contracted out to the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept.
Ridge pointed out that a planned vaccination mandate for employees at the Dept. of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) was put on pause after a U.S. appeals court upheld a lower court decision to suspend its implementation.
“The appeals court cited grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate. Additionally, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rule requiring most health care workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 with no option for testing has also been halted by federal courts,” Ridge said.
And the morning of Dec. 7, “A federal judge in Georgia blocked the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandates for federal contractors nationwide,” Ridge added.
In the throes of the pandemic, Santa Ana officials were vocal and highly active in their public health response strategies — setting up mobile testing sites, allocating government relief money to rental assistance funds, posing the idea of mandating hazard pay for grocery workers, and calling on the county and state to designate a vaccination site in the city.
The city was one of the hardest hit, compared to other areas of the county, after scarcities in testing resources and educational outreach throughout Santa Ana’s working-class neighborhoods became clear toward the beginning of the pandemic.
Officials at the city called out the county over a struggle to get vaccines to residents quickly, pushing Mayor Vicente Sarmiento to publicly criticize local, state, and federal officials in March.
The frustration prompted city officials to even toy with the idea of forming its own, municipal health department.
Ridge, at last Tuesday’s meeting, made this observation about the city’s vaccination progress for municipal employees:
“It is estimated that 82% of our city employees are vaccinated. Significantly higher than the vaccination rate of our very own state of California.”
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