“I don't want us to get to the point where we're having to terminate any employees due to a policy," said City Manager Teresa Wilson. "I want to work with everyone to get us there, but we've got to get there.”
Wilson told News19 that City Council voted to mandate the vaccine to keep essential, public services running and safe.
Wilson said due to the pandemic, they've had issues with many employees having to quarantine. The worst impact Wilson said has been losing four employees to the virus. All four were in different departments.
Since announcing the mandate, the number of vaccinated employees has jumped from around 50% to 72%, according to Wilson. She said 70% of the Columbia Police Department is vaccinated and the Columbia Richland Fire Department is at 55%.
Wilson explained, “my goal is to work in a way that honors the mandate that Council is expecting, but also tries to work and protect the employment of my team and of our employees at the city."
The city is incentivizing vaccines with $500 for employees. Wilson said if they reach a high percentage, she may allow unvaccinated employees to keep their jobs if they follow other safety guidelines.
“This week we started mandatory testing for our unvaccinated employees," said Wilson. "So, they have to be tested weekly, and that will continue.”
The city expects some religious and medical exemptions to come in but hopes most employees will be vaccinated by November 1 when the new policy and guidelines are released.
Both Columbia Police and the Fire Department declined to comment on the mandate, but the National Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters say they strongly encourage getting vaccinated but believe it should be a personal decision.