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Some unvaccinated California correctional officers could face discipline under new order

California state correctional officers who work in prison health care settings must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 24 or face disciplinary action, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told employees in emails Monday.

The Department of Public Health ordered on Aug. 19 that all prison and jail employees who work in or around health care settings had to be vaccinated by Oct. 14.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents about 28,000 state correctional officers, objected to the order in Kern County Superior Court before the deadline. The corrections department paused the vaccination order for correctional officers under a temporary order from Judge Bernard Barmann, but is reinstating it after Barmann tossed out the union’s challenge on Friday.

Under the new schedule, correctional officers must get the second dose of a two-dose regimen or receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot by Nov. 24, according to a Monday email from the department to wardens and other senior leaders.

Those who don’t show proof of vaccination by the deadline will be subject to progressive discipline starting Nov. 29, according to the email.

The order exempts officers with a “sincerely‐held religious belief or qualifying medical reason.”

Starting Nov. 1, all partially vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, including those with exemptions, need to start wearing N95 masks at all times while working in areas identified in the public health order, the email says.

The corrections department did not immediately respond to questions, including one about how many officers are subject to the health order.

According to the latest information posted online by the corrections department, 241 inmates and 46 employees have died from COVID-19, and 63% of employees are fully vaccinated.

The correctional officers’ union is still fighting another, broader vaccination order from U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar, who last month ordered the state to come up with a plan to vaccinate all prison employees — not just those in health care settings — along with inmates who work outside of the prison.

Tigar’s order aligned with a recommendation from J. Clark Kelso, a federal receiver who oversees medical care inside the prisons.

The union objected to Tigar’s order, and so did the corrections department and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who filed a notice of appeal.

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