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Honolulu Officer Says He Faces Termination for Refusing COVID-19 Vaccination

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Casey Harlow / HPR
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An officer with the Honolulu Police Department said he has been suspended without pay and faces termination for not complying with the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Cpl. Mark Kutsy was on patrol Tuesday night when he was pulled off duty and forced to turn in his gun and badge, Hawaii News Now reported.

There are about 49 Honolulu employees facing possible termination for failing to comply with the city's vaccination policy.

No national statistics show the vaccination rate for America’s entire population of first responders but individual police and fire departments across the country report figures far below the national rate of 74% of adults who have had at least one dose.

“We have said from the beginning that we do not want to fire any of our employees, but our primary goal is to provide a safe workplace for all of our employees and their families,” Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said.

Kutsy said he's willing to submit to weekly testing. But Honolulu is in the only county in Hawaii not giving an option to test in lieu of vaccination.

State workers also have a vaccination mandate, but can undergo weekly tests instead.

About 296 Honolulu police officers and civilian employees have applied for a religious or medical exemption, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Kutsy told Hawaii News Now he doesn't want to get vaccinated because of possible side effects. He said he doesn't want to apply for an exemption because he doesn't feel he qualifies for one.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a COVID-19 vaccination will help protect against getting COVID-19. It says side effects are possible but should go away in a few days.

“The risk of getting the vaccine is greater than not getting it at all, at this time, based on my personal health and judgement," he told the newspaper.

The police union will help Kutsy and go through the grievance process, Malcolm Lutu, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, President Biden on Thursday unveiled a series of steps to combat the newly surging pandemic, including the announcement of a forthcoming federal rule that all businesses with 100 or more employees have to ensure that every worker is either vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing for the coronavirus.

"We're in a tough stretch, and it could last for a while," Biden conceded, as the delta variant of the coronavirus has caused cases, hospitalizations and deaths to rise across the country. But, he added: "We can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19."

Among the other steps, Biden also announced that federal workers and contractors will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19, eliminating an option laid out in July for unvaccinated employees to be regularly tested instead.

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