The Leesburg Town Council voted in favor of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal employees, including the Virginia town's 90 police officers, Tuesday night.
All municipal employees must show proof of vaccination, unless they receive a medical or religious exemption. People who receive exemptions will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing, which the town will pay for.
The council is aiming for a target date of 90 days for notification and compliance.
Only council members Suzanne Fox and Kari Nacy voted against the mandate.
"Our police force is now divided because of this," Nacy said.
Some police officers threatened to quit rather than be obligated to get vaccinated.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
"If this vaccine does become mandated, I will be seeking other employment," Officer William Butterfield said at a recent council meeting.
Three officers told the council their concerns are shared throughout much of the department.
"This decision has the potential to decimate LPD,” Officer Josh Carter said. “Our town could lose a lot of amazing police officers."
Mayor Kelly Burk said she was disappointed but not concerned.
“The job of the town council and the police is to protect and serve the community, and if you're putting your community in danger, then maybe that's not the right job for you," she said.
Sign up for our Breaking newsletter to get the most urgent news stories in your inbox.
Late last week, a group of eight Leesburg police officers sent the mayor and town council a letter disputing their colleagues' claim. It said the mandate will not dismantle the police department despite what some officers said. It went on to say it would save officers' lives.
The officers cited new data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum. A preliminary report of officer fatalities for the first half of 2021 shows COVID-19 is the leading cause of officer death, killing more than twice as many officers as the next two leading causes combined.
"I thought it was very telling that you had eight officers that were willing to put their name to a letter to say that not only were they vaccinated themselves, but they really believe that it's important that all police officers do get vaccinated," Burk said.
Loudoun County will cover the costs of the weekly COVID-19 tests through December. Then the cost of the tests would come out of the employee's pocket —unless they get the shot.
Leesburg Town Manager Kaj Dentler estimated that about 40% of staff are unvaccinated, but he said that number may have decreased since last count.