The appellate court temporarily blocked the requirement that every staff member in a California prison must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-January.
The deferral provided by the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals last week suspends the mandate, which was due to take effect by January 12, for 34 prisons in the state.
According to the court, prison staff who have not been vaccinated can instead have regular COVID-19 tests to keep their jobs.
The mandate to require all prison staff to be vaccinated has been challenged by Governor Gavin Newsom, the prison system and the California Corrections Association, which represents the state’s prison guard.
A union group backed Newsom when he ran for governor in 2018. They also pledged $ 1.75 million to combat a recent recall attempt, according to online campaign funding reports.
“(Requiring a vaccine) will force unvaccinated (prison guards) to choose between losing their jobs … or having an unwanted medical procedure that cannot be reversed,” lawyers opposing the mandate said in an appeal.
Lawyers also suggested that the mandate could lead to staff shortages, which could lead to “security breaches” and “bodily harm to prisoners and staff.”
Despite his efforts to prevent vaccinations from becoming mandatory for all prison staff, including guards, the governor’s spokesman reiterated that Newsom encourages all people to get the vaccine.
The court will review the mandate in March. The lower court ruled that finding inmates among unvaccinated prison officers was cruel and unusual punishment.
If the appeal is successful, unvaccinated employees will be able to continue working as long as they are tested for COVID-19 twice a week and remain free of the virus.
Including prison staff exempted from vaccines for medical or religious reasons. Prison staff had to apply for release by November 19, the state’s prison system said on its website.
Refused candidates will be instructed to “start vaccinations,” the state said on its website. Those who fail to comply will be subject to disciplinary action and, according to state prison officials, may be fired.
More than 43,000 of the state’s more than 66,000 prison staff, roughly 65 percent, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the California Department of Corrections.
The prison system is fighting the pandemic hard.
To date, more than 240 deaths of government prisoners and 45 government prison staff have been linked to COVID-19, according to the agency.
The first COVID-related deaths befell inmates at the California Men’s Institution in Chino. At the moment, 30 people housed there have died from the virus.
The second largest deaths from COVID-19 – 28 in San Quentin. At the Lancaster State Prison, the deaths of 14 inmates and one guard are attributed to the virus.
The prison system was heavily criticized in mid-2020, when Chino Prison had over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 700 inmates were transferred from there to other prisons deemed free of coronavirus, including San Quentin.
But the Bureau of Prison Law, representing inmates, said in court documents that in some cases, inmates’ tests were negative long before the transfer. It was found that 16 people who traveled to San Quentin tested positive for the virus.