The Stanislaus County Superior Court is requiring its employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment no later than 45 days after the Food & Drug Administration gives final approval to at least one COVID-19 vaccine, announced Presiding Judge Robert B. Westbrook and Court Executive Officer Hugh K. Swift.
On Monday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine – the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and will now be marketed as Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.
The court’s announcement comes as COVID-19 cases in Stanislaus County have increased since February, with more than 90% of new cases being reported in unvaccinated populations - including children under 12, who are not currently eligible to receive any of the vaccines.
On Monday, the county reported two COVID deaths in the past 24 hours with about 252 hospitalizations of which 54 cases were in intensive care units.
“This was a difficult but necessary decision,” said Westbrook, a registered Democrat. “I believe that implementing this policy is in the best interests of our entire community.”
Westbrook said the court has a duty to do everything it can to protect the people it serves - including jurors, attorneys, witnesses and victims - from exposure to COVID-19 and that “the vaccines are the best tools we have in our toolbox to fight this deadly virus.”
However, many persons who have been vaccinated continue to experience COVID outbreaks.
“Despite the tremendous impact of the virus, the Court has focused on its core mission of providing access to justice while prioritizing the health and safety of the community,” added Court Executive Officer Hugh Swift. Within a few days of the announcement of the statewide “stay at home” order in March 2020, the Court began implementing remote appearances in many case types. In June 2020 the Court mandated that face masks be worn in all Court facilities and set a capacity limit for its main facility to allow for social distancing. “Although the CDC mask mandate was briefly lifted in June 2021, the Court decided to continue its mask requirement in light of the low vaccination rate in Stanislaus County,” Swift stated. “The resurgence of COVID19 since that point and the CDC’s recent renewed guidance regarding masks demonstrates the Court’s cautious and consistent approach was correct.”
Approximately 36 percent of Stanislaus County residents have opted not to be vaccinated.
Swift also outlined some of the details of the new vaccination policy, including:
• Any employee with a medical condition that prevents them from receiving a vaccine, as verified by their medical provider, will be excused from the vaccination requirement;
• Any employee with a confirmed, sincerely held religious belief that prohibits them from receiving a vaccine may request that they be excused from the vaccination requirement as an accommodation. The Court will review any requests for accommodation on a confidential, case-by-case basis consistent with the Americans With Disabilities Act;
• All employees who are either medically excused or are granted an accommodation will be required to undergo a weekly test for COVID-19; and
• Employees will be required to submit proof of their vaccination status to the Court through an electronic portal. All information will be kept confidential.
“I am not a scientist,” said Westbrook, “but it is crystal clear to me that vaccinating as many people as possible is our best chance to beat COVID-19 once and for all. The longer we wait to get vaccinated, the more likely it is that the virus will mutate and find a new way to infect us.”
For questions related to the Court’s vaccine policy, please contact Court Administration at 530-3111.