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Nearly 100 COVID Cases Confirmed Among City Workers

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By Jorge Casuso

January 14, 2022 -- The highly contagious, but milder, Omicron variant is sweeping through the City of Santa Monica's highly vaccinated workforce, infecting nearly 100 municipal employees, according to City data.

Of the 97 total employees who had tested positive as of Thursday, 61 work in the Public Safety facility and 18 work for the Big Blue Bus (BBB), according to Los Angeles County Health data.

As is the case with the general population, the surge in COVID cases is taking place among both vaccinated and unvaccinated City workers, who are mandated to take the shot or be regularly tested, City officials said.

"With the rise in COVID-19 Omicron variant transmission, City departments are seeing a mix of positive cases among both unvaccinated and vaccinated groups," said Constance Farrell, the City's spokesperson.

In addition to mandatory testing for all unvaccinated City employees,
the City is "proactively" offering COVID-19 testing to all employees at the Big Blue Bus and in the Public Safety Facility, Farrell said.

A total of 46 public safety workers had tested positive as of Wednesday, with 32 of them sworn personnel, according to City officials.

Another 15 cases were added on Thursday, although no data was available by deadline indicating how many were sworn personnel.

Of the 18 Big Blue Bus employees who have tested positive, 14 are drivers, according to City officials.

The surge in cases since the holidays -- which mirrors an increase in cases across LA County -- has prompted City officials to modify "already stringent infection control measures to proactively prevent COVID-19 spread in the workplace," Farrell said.

This includes "upgrading masks to medical-grade personal protective equipment citywide and implementing physically distancing and augmented testing in impacted areas."

All workers who have tested positive are "following LA County isolation orders and home from work," Farrell said.

This, however, has not impacted the City's ability to provide essential services, she said.

"Early in the pandemic, essential service City departments developed staff contingency plans to manage staff COVID-19 absenteeism," Farrell said.

"The City continues to strictly follow all LA County Department of Public Health workplace prevention protocols, both in our worksites and when staff are working with the public."

In addition to the confirmed cases among public safety and transportation workers, eight Public Works employees, seven Swim Center staff and three Fire Department staff have tested positive, according to City officials.

Last August, the City issued a policy -- supported by the Council on a 5 to 1 vote -- requiring all City employees, contractors and volunteers to be fully vaccinated by October 29 ("Santa Monica Mandates Vaccinations for City Employees," August 26, 2021).

As of early December, 86 percent of the City's approximately 1,900 employees had been vaccinated, according to City data.

The remaining 11 percent had been granted exemptions and 3 percent were not in compliance ("City Employee Vaccination Rates Lag Behind School District," December 6, 2021).

In December, City officials said that many unvaccinated staff members were on long term leave and required to provide documentation showing they have been vaccinated or granted an exemption when they return, City officials said.

"Progressive discipline is underway for other non-compliant staff who are not actively on leave," Farrell said at the time.

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