Assembly weighs mandating vaccines after statehouse COVID outbreak – San Francisco Chronicle

SACRAMENTO — The California Assembly is exploring whether to require its members and employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, following a small outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the state Capitol last week.

“It’s something that’s under consideration,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in an interview Thursday. “There’s a couple of different models that other entities have adopted. We have to talk it over, not only with our public health folks, but also with our employment attorneys as well.”

Rendon, a Democrat from Lakewood (Los Angeles County), said mandatory vaccines was one of “several possibilities that we’re looking at” as legislative leaders try to tamp down on the spread of the virus amid the rise of the more infectious delta variant.

Some lawmakers have called for the requirement, Rendon said, but his staff is still assessing if it is legal and whether it would be more effective than other safety precautions.

“When cases are concentrated in a certain area, we know that people are at risk. So that’s why we’re considering this,” he said.

Nine Assembly employees, four of whom were fully vaccinated, tested positive for the coronavirus last week, according to Assembly officials, though one of those staff members subsequently tested negative. Eight of the people who were infected worked in the same office.

That led the Assembly to reinstate a mandate this week that all lawmakers and employees wear a mask at all times while inside the Capitol and other legislative buildings. They had previously been allowed to remove their masks in their offices if they were fully vaccinated.

The state Senate, which has not reported any new coronavirus infections, followed suit. A representative for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, could not immediately say Thursday whether she was also considering mandating vaccinations.

Last month, San Francisco announced that it would require all city employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, on penalty of firing, once the shot receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was likely the first local government in the country to take that step, though some unions and employee groups have pushed back on the mandate.

Educational institutions such as Stanford University and the University of California are planning to require all students and staff to be vaccinated in the fall, while private sector employers are still struggling to sort out their vaccination and COVID testing policies. They may look to the government for an example.

More than 80% of Assembly employees are already fully vaccinated, Rendon said Thursday, and the outbreak of cases has not affected their work.

“We’re still going about our business, he said. “Over the course of a year and a half, we’ve learned how to function under these conditions.”

Rendon declined to provide additional information on the office where the outbreak ocurred, including whether it belonged to a member of the Assembly. Most lawmakers do not have eight staffers in their Capitol offices. Other units in the building include administrative staff and security personnel.

But Rendon said he did not believe the outbreak was the result of anti-vaccine sentiments or other political views.

“I’d like to think not,” he said, though he acknowledged, “COVID, like hand soap and anything else, becomes politicized in this building.”

Alexei Koseff is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: alexei.koseff@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @akoseff