Court Temporarily Blocks Enforcement of Vaccine Mandate for California Prison Workers

A federal appeals court temporarily suspended a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all prison workers in California, blocking new rules that were scheduled to take effect on January 12.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday approved a request for a stay on an order granted by a lower court, pending appeal.

A judge ordered the mandate requiring all correctional facility staffers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine based on a recommendation of an official who was appointed by a court to lead the health care system in California prisons. The receiver was appointed by a court after a federal judge determined that the state was not providing adequate health care to inmates in 2005.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar also ordered all inmates who want in-person visitations or work outside prison facilities to receive the vaccine.

"Once the virus enters a facility, it is very difficult to contain, and the dominant route by which it enters a prison is through infected staff," Tigar said.

The vaccine mandate would have taken effect January 12, but the stay pauses its enforcement until an appeals hearing that is scheduled for March, according to The Associated Press.

In their decision, the panel of judges on the appeals court also imposed a December 13 deadline for opening briefs.

California Gavin Newsom court blocks COVID-19 vaccine
A federal appeals court temporarily suspended a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all prison workers in California, blocking new rules that were scheduled to take effect on January 12. An aerial view of San Quentin State Prison on July 08, 2020 in San Quentin, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, opposed the stay, saying that it "puts both the prison staff and the incarcerated population at greater risk of infection."

Around 51,000 inmates in California prisons have been infected with the virus and more than 240 have died from the disease since the pandemic was declared last March, according to a tracker maintained by the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. There are currently 130 active cases in state custody.

Governor Gavin Newsom joined California's prison agency in appealing the vaccine mandate for prison workers earlier this month, despite his administration having been a champion of vaccine and testing mandates. They argued that its implementation would force correctional officers to resign en masse rather than comply, which would leave state prisons dangerously understaffed.

"Since early in this pandemic, CDCR has implemented rigorous COVID safety measures, including mandatory masking, twice weekly testing for staff and the early rollout of vaccines for incarcerated people and staff," a spokesperson for Newsom told The Los Angeles Times.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a politically powerful organization that opposed the mandate, had donated $1.75 million to a group that backed Newsom in the state's October recall election, according to the Times.

Newsweek reached out to Newsom's office for comment.