3 Bay Area counties urge employers to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With cases of COVID-19 on the rise in the Bay Area, health officials from San Francisco, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties are urging employers to require employees to be vaccinated.

Officials also said in a press release Thursday that masking should be required for all those in the workplace who are currently unvaccinated.

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"The choice is to either get the vaccine or get COVID," said Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano. "Unvaccinated workers pose a risk not only to themselves but also to their coworkers and the public they interact with."

In Contra Costa County, an unvaccinated person is now more than 20 times more likely to get COVID than someone fully vaccinated. In counties throughout the Bay Area, the vast majority of those hospitalized and dying from coronavirus are the unvaccinated.

"What we really want to do is empower businesses with this recommendation and to say public health is fully behind these type of requirements," explained San Francisco Deputy Health Director Dr. Naveena Bobba M.D.

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"I think if people are fully vaccinated and they feel safe and it's a safe environment, then it makes sense," said Aaron Cox, who works in an office building in Walnut Creek.

But can businesses legally require their employees to get a vaccine that's not yet fully approved by the FDA?

"There isn't any law that prevents a private employer from imposing any employment conditions that it wants to impose," said Sandy Rappaport, an employment attorney with Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. "So long as the condition is not unlawful and the condition of requiring vaccination is not an unlawful."

Rappaport said its legal to require vaccines as long as there are limited exemptions for those with medical conditions or strongly held religious beliefs.

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Several large employers like the University of California, have already announced they'll require students and employees to be fully vaccinated.

"There are many employers in the state and around the country who have begun to require vaccination for their workforce and these requirements have been upheld in the courts," said Santa Clara County Deputy Health Officer Dr. George Han M.D.

At this point, the health officers for the three counties emphasized they are only making a recommendation to employers, but did not rule out the possibility that it could at some point, become a public health order.

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