By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Dozens of city employees are on unpaid leave, and hundreds more could join them over the next two weeks, as the Dec. 18 deadline looms for LA City employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said that 77 city employees are on unpaid leave as of Wednesday, and 700 more are subject to being placed on leave within the next two weeks.

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“The good news is, overwhelmingly, city employees have gotten vaccinated. The numbers are impressive and strong, and getting better,” Garcetti said at a news conference Wednesday. “And I want to be clear the vaccine mandate is not about getting rid of employees. My goal is to keep every employee and to keep every employee safe.”

Employee testing is set to start Friday, and under the city’s mandate, unvaccinated employees will have to submit to two COVID-19 tests weekly. The costs of those tests, $65 per test, will be deducted from those employees’ paychecks. Under the mandate, employees must get tested outside of work hours, and conducted by a city or a vendor of the city’s choosing. Third-party tests will not be accepted.

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By Dec. 18, all LA city employees are required to be vaccinated or apply for a religious or medical exemption, which will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If an employee’s exemption is approved, testing will be conducted once per week at the city’s expense.

Garcetti says he has asked all department heads, including the fire and police chiefs, to plan for potential vacancies.

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“I’m hopeful as these numbers continue to creep up, and they are quite strong already, that that won’t tax us, that we will be able to fulfill our city functions that we’ll be able to keep people safe, respond to our 911 calls,” he said. “But they’ve both assured me that we can put that in place. It may cost us some money up front, but it’s cost us a lot of money to lose people to covid when they’re out…that has cost us arguably even more.”