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SAN DIEGO — Nearly 800 San Diego city employees are receiving news this week they get to keep their jobs after applying for medical or religious exemptions from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The mandate passed last fall and Mayor Todd Gloria this week says the mandate and exemptions are still a work in progress.

“We will have to continue to work with employees who are not responsive,” Gloria said. “We will have to work with employees who get an exemption, but who choose not to test on a weekly basis as it is mandated. We will continue to require new hires to be vaccinated.”

In total, 790 employees will have their exemptions approved this week, but there are still 200 exemptions under review.  

Before the mandate, the city employee vaccination rate was 69%. The positive vaccination rate among employees since has surpassed 90%. Combined with relaxing federal and state guidelines and funding for tests, the city felt it was able to accommodate more exemptions.

When asked if pending litigation over the city’s mandate was the reason for 790 employees to successfully receive exemptions, Gloria responded by saying, “Not at all. 100% no.”

“In fact,” he added, “with the litigation that has been brought forward, the city has been successful.”

Gloria says he’s further encouraged by the overwhelming majority of city employees who are vaccinated.

One of the hundreds to receive the result of her exemption request this week is deputy city attorney Giovanna Longobardo. She did not speak in an official capacity but offered her reaction to FOX 5 from the moment she got the news.

“I just saw it and I was like, ‘Wow, oh my gosh. A wave of relief went over me,'” she said.

Longobardo had to interview with a panel, explaining why she was asking for a religious exemption.

“It certainly didn’t feel like it was just like you signed a piece of paper and then your exemption is granted. I put a lot of time and thought and energy into why I’m objecting to this vaccine,” she said.

For those who asked for exemptions, it’s felt like a long time in limbo. However, there were many people who got vaccinated because they wanted to and also those who did to assure they’d keep their jobs.

“I don’t think that they ever thought an exemption was coming, so I think they thought it’s just going to be mandatory, I just have to do this,” Longobardo said.

For the 200 exemptions being considered, the city says not everyone has provided sufficient documentation and there is no exact timeline for when a decision will be made.