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176 Seattle first responders wait for vaccine exemptions

October 20, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — About 176 Seattle police officers and firefighters are unable to report to work as the city’s COVID-19 mandate has taken effect and employees await possible accommodations to maintain their jobs without vaccines. according to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office.

The city boasted that 99% of its roughly 11,000 employees were in compliance with the requirement of as of Monday’s deadline, but 5% of those employees filed for or received a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine, The Seattle Times reported.

In all, 103 sworn and civilian Seattle Police Department employees submitted requests for either a medical or religious exemption and six others have “entered the separation process,” according to the police department. The six facing separation for noncompliance are sworn officers.

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Of those in the exemption process, 93 are sworn officers, who were not allowed to report for work on Tuesday and likely will not be working for several weeks, said Stephanie Formas, Durkan’s chief of staff.

According to Formas, the city expects it will take four to six weeks for the city and employees to resolve exemption requests.

“While we work to reach 100% vaccination compliance within the Seattle Police Department, there may be some impacts to our service levels, especially given our loss in staffing over the past two years,” a Tuesday statement from police officials said.

“To that end, the department has developed a series of plans to provide the best level of service, including augmenting patrol staffing with officers from the Community Response Group first, before detectives and other non-patrol sworn employees are asked to return to the streets.”

Similarly, 93% of the Seattle Fire Department is fully vaccinated, and 66 employees are undergoing the vaccine and accommodation process. They are on leave “until the accommodation process is complete or a member chooses to get fully vaccinated,” according to a statement from the department.

Another 11 Fire Department employees did not submit proof of vaccination or apply for an exemption and are facing termination.

For union-represented employees in each department, the termination process allows employees to request and receive a voluntary hearing to appeal to human resources and department leadership.

In the statement, fire officials said they do not expect the staffing to hobble first-response efforts.

According to the mayor’s office, some departments are 100% vaccinated. Others are facing similar exemption, including Seattle City Light with 84 exemptions, Seattle Public Utilities with 72 exemptions, Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation with 47 exemptions and the Seattle Department of Transportation with 35 exemptions.

The city was unable to provide data on resignations related to the mandate.

In King County, where Executive Dow Constantine issued the same requirement and deadline, 92.3% of the over 14,000 employees covered by the mandate are fully vaccinated, but over 1,000 are seeking exemption or did not comply.