Hundreds of Honolulu fire, EMS and police personnel apply for vaccine exemption
49 city employees who refused to respond are facing disciplinary action, including termination
By Peter Boylan
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — First responders account for about 44 % of the 890 applications for religious or medical exemptions from the city's COVID-19 vaccine requirement, as Mayor Rick Blangiardi aggressively defends the mandate and additional emergency orders as the only way to keep the community safe from the outbreak of the delta variant.
Forty-nine employees face disciplinary action including termination for refusing to respond or comply with the administration's mandate.
About 296 HPD officers and civilian employees and 100 firefighters applied for a religious or medical exemption. There are 358 employees out on extended leave for workers' compensation, family leave and other reasons, who will be expected to complete their digital attestation forms when they return to work.
In a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Blangiardi said the city is "reviewing each of the 890 exemption requests received, however we fully intend to honor the medical and religious requests of employees."
How far government may go to evaluate whether an employee's religion or medical history prevents them from accepting a COVID-19 vaccine is unclear. The city would have to independently investigate the statements made on an attestation form to support an application for an exemption to determine their legitimacy.
"I would like to thank and acknowledge the 8,829 men and women in our workforce who have been vaccinated to date, " said Blangiardi in a statement. "We anticipate that number to continue to increase as a measure to help prevent the spread of the disease amongst the city's workforce and mitigate the pressure on the medical community experiencing the high hospitalization rates. We said from the beginning that we do not want to fire any of our employees, but our primary goal is to provide a safe workplace for all of our employees and their families."
There are about 10,300 county workers. In August, 97 of them tested positive for COVID-19, and one person lost their life to the virus.
City departments are forwarding nearly all questions about the vaccine mandate to the mayor's office.
Blangiardi, acting Honolulu Police Chief Rade K. Vanic, acting Honolulu Fire Chief Lionel E. Camara Jr., acting Deputy HFD Chief Sheldon K. Hao and Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Dr. James Ireland did not reply to Star-Advertiser questions about how the mandate and applications for exemptions are affecting operations or how they are handling employees who receive exemptions or refuse the vaccine.
The mayor and his department heads did not respond to questions about whether unvaccinated first responders would interact with the public or vaccinated employees or how often unvaccinated workers would be tested. They would not release criteria for evaluating claims of religious or medical exemptions.
The chiefs and leadership teams of HPD, HFD, EMS and Ocean Safety are all vaccinated.
The administration worked through last weekend evaluating the inoculation numbers and is still finalizing the breakdown of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers by department, according to the mayor's office. Blangiardi originally said statistics on the number of vaccinated workers would be available Aug. 25.
The Honolulu Police Commission was told Wednesday that 37 officers and three civilian employees are currently sidelined by COVID-19.
Twenty-two officers tested positive for COVID-19 and an additional 15 are in isolation after possible exposure, and their absence is not affecting operations. Police have said it would take hundreds of officers being out sick before the public noticed service interruptions.
Three civilian personnel are also in self-quarantine.
"The number of officers who are on leave due to COVID quarantine or isolation fluctuates on a daily basis and typically ranges from 25 to 50 officers, " said HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu. "They are assigned to various districts and divisions. There has been no impact on department operations."
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