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Former Encinitas lifeguard, employee question city’s vaccine mandate

ENCINITAS — A former longtime seasonal lifeguard with the City of Encinitas, who was fired less than 24 hours after a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy was implemented, is questioning the city’s handling of the controversial directive and treatment of unvaccinated first responders who have served since the coronavirus pandemic began.

LG, who requested to withhold his name, told The Coast News after 15 years working for the city as a seasonal contract lifeguard, a member of the Swiftwater Rescue Dive team and primary instructor of the city-run Open Water Lifeguard Academy, he was fired on Oct. 8 due to his unvaccinated status.

According to LG, a total of 14 seasonal lifeguards were terminated just one day after the city’s vaccine mandate took effect, which was confirmed by another anonymous source inside the city.

“A big piece of my life got torn away,” LG said. “I believe Encinitas lifeguards are the best in the county, but we were treated like trash, like bad employees. I feel like we don’t deserve this kind of treatment. My life is as a public servant. I’m always vigilant and ready to do the right thing. But I have my medical reasons why this vaccine isn’t right for me.”

Julie Taber, the city’s public information officer, said since the end of July, “approximately 40 at-will, seasonal lifeguard contracts have been terminated” for a variety of reasons, but added that the “city does not release the reasons for employee dismissals” to protect the individual’s privacy rights. 

Taber also noted that the city’s at-will employees, such as seasonal lifeguards, are those with “no guaranteed hours, schedule or tenure” and who may be terminated at any time, “without notice and without cause.”

The city’s COVID-19 policy, signed by City Manager Pamela Antil on Aug. 25, requires employees to submit documentation that “they have received the first dose of a two-dose vaccination for COVID-19 or a single-dose vaccine beginning 45 days” after FDA approval and no later than Oct. 7.

The policy also requires city workers receive “all FDA recommended booster vaccinations” thereafter.   

The City of Encinitas followed through on enforcing its policy by placing all non-vaccinated workers on unpaid leave for 30 days, as previously reported by The Coast News. Employees who remain unvaccinated after the 30-day period will be terminated for noncompliance. According to the city, less than 6% of employees had not been vaccinated.

“All seasonal employees who left city service were paid for any hours worked through the regular payroll process,” Taber said.

LG, who also works as a firefighter in Los Angeles County and worked through the early days of the pandemic in Encinitas, said he cooperated with the city’s mask and testing requirements every step of the way but didn’t feel comfortable getting vaccinated.

The 40-year-old firefighter said he was unable to file for an exemption based on his personal medical history and circumstances related to his 10-year-old daughter’s bilateral lung cancer diagnosis.

After his daughter endured years of chemotherapy, LG said his family’s outlook changed to live a more holistic lifestyle.

“I maintain a strict, organic, plant-based diet and put my health first,” LG said. “I don’t put any chemicals in my body and (the vaccine) was a major concern for me. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. We should be given the option one way or another if we choose to take it.”

A pair of studies published in August by JAMA Cardiology, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examine adverse effects associated with COVID-19 vaccines, including blood clots and myocarditis.

But even with these rare cases, health professionals still strongly advocate for COVID-19 vaccines. The same researchers note the risk of blood clots from COVID-19 infection is 60 to 230 times higher than the risk from COVID-19 vaccination.

Another veteran city employee, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was confirmed by The Coast News, claimed the city ignored numerous exemption requests from employees. The source also said several employees got vaccinated only because they were afraid to lose their jobs.

“Many people turned in exemption forms explaining why they didn’t want that vaccine,” the source said. “They never heard anything. The city sat on them until Oct. 7 and then told them that day they were not accepting exemptions and they need to leave the building. That was not a good day.”

In response, Taber said vaccine exemption requests “are governed under state law and the city followed the state law.”