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Charleston County, cities and St. Johns Fire District suspend vaccine mandates

Published: May. 11, 2022 at 3:00 PM EDT|Updated: May. 11, 2022 at 6:51 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus is no longer a requirement for the city of North Charleston, the city of Charleston, Charleston County and the St. John’s Fire District.

The vaccine mandate suspensions come after Gov. Henry McMaster signed an act into law that prohibits these mandates, which says, “the practice of discrimination based on vaccination status is in conflict with the ideals of South Carolina.” The legislation says the state or any political subdivision may not enact a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

“Governor McMaster recently signed into law new state legislation that prohibits taking certain employment and other actions based on COVID vaccination status,” City of North Charleston spokesman Ryan Johnson said. “Because of this new law, the city suspended all enforcement of its vaccine mandate.”

North Charleston Mayor Pro Tem Jerome Heyward said the mandate is suspended “effectively immediately.” Heyward said the city respects the decision made in Columbia, but they’re still encouraging people to be safe and make wise decisions.

The City of North Charleston reported that 43 employees left the city’s police and fire departments after the deadline to get vaccinated but said not all of them left specifically because of the mandate. Johnson said the city terminated 16 police officers and nine firefighters. 15 police officers and three firefighters resigned, but Johnson said only eight of them cited the vaccine mandate as the reason they were leaving.

“I think you got a certain amount of folks out there that just don’t like the restrictions, and now having it lifted, are we gonna see a big rush for employment opportunities?” Heyward said. “It’s too early to tell.”

City of Charleston spokesman Jack O’Toole said that the city’s mandate has been suspended.

Kay Cross, director of human resources for the City of Charleston, says the biggest difference for them now is that new hires will no longer have to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The city has removed any language that said people needed to be vaccinated from their website and employment applications. Cross said by the time they implemented the vaccine mandate in the city, 91% of employees were vaccinated.

“You could either get vaccinated, or you could submit a request for an accommodation,” Cross said. “Out of about 1650 employees, we had about 150 who chose to request an accommodation. We did not require them to get vaccinated, and they’re still here with us. We had six employees who did not request an accommodation or choose to get vaccinated so those employees were separated.”

St. Johns Fire District Chief Ryan Kunitzer also confirmed to Live 5 that their mandate has ended.

Charleston County spokeswoman Kelsey Barlow confirmed Wednesday afternoon that they are also suspending their vaccine policy.

In February, a federal judge dismissed four lawsuits filed over vaccine mandates. The lawsuits named the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, Charleston County and St. Johns Fire District.

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