Also not on the table: Mandate for employee jabs

Posted 9/10/21

Jefferson County won’t shut off public access to county facilities to people who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, officials said last week.

County commissioners said they also …

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Also not on the table: Mandate for employee jabs

Posted

Jefferson County won’t shut off public access to county facilities to people who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, officials said last week.

County commissioners said they also weren’t ready to require county employees to get vaccinated against COVID, as other governments in Washington state have done.

Commissioners talked about the potential for a vaccine mandate for county workers at their board meeting earlier this week.

County Commissioner Greg Brotherton said county facilities should remain open to all, regardless of their vaccination status.

Brotherton said such a mandate shouldn’t be considered unless county employees were also required to be vaccinated, which was another requirement “I’m not ready for.”

“I feel similarly,” added Commissioner Kate Dean.

Dean noted people usually don’t spend a lot of time in county facilities during visits, with the exceptions largely limited to the auditor’s office and the courts.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced earlier this month that all state employees and health care workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18.

And last week, Inslee ordered that all K-12 school employees also get vaccinated by Oct. 18.

King County and the city of Seattle also adopted vaccination mandates for employees earlier this month.

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval last week of the Pfizer vaccine, President Joe Biden said the spread of the Delta variant was “causing a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” and he called for state and local leaders to require employees to be vaccinated.

Jefferson County commissioners said during their meeting Aug. 23, however, they were worried about impacts to the county’s work force that could come from a vaccination mandate.

Dean said the county had done well to limit the spread of COVID-19 in county facilities.

“We’re doing a good job,” she said. “We demonstrated we can do it.”

Imposing a vaccine mandate could see the county “run afoul” of its employee unions, as well as lose critical workers.

“And we have a hard time filling positions right now,” Dean added.

During the board’s last meeting, Jefferson County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry told commissioners she supported a mandate to require vaccinations for county workers.

“I think we do need to lead by example when it comes to vaccination,” Berry said.

Still, she said the loss of employees over such a requirement would be problematic.

Even so, it was reasonable to mandate vaccines for those who work in high-risk places, such as the county jail.

Berry is expected to reach out to local law enforcement officials, including the county sheriff and police chief in Port Townsend, in coming days about vaccinations.

County Administrator Mark McCauley noted that many county employees have already been vaccinated.

In terms of county departments, McCauley said the sheriff’s office likely has the highest percentage of unvaccinated workers.

Imposing a mandate for corrections staff to be vaccinated may have consequences, he added.

“I don’t know how many of them would lose county employment,” McCauley told commissioners during their meeting. “But that’s a danger we need to be aware of.”

Although county officials are planning vaccination clinics for several local private employers in the coming weeks, no clinics have been scheduled for the general public.

A public COVID-19 vaccination clinic planned in Quilcene for early last week was called off due to a lack of interest, said Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Willie Bence.

Comments

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Tom Thiersch

It's a shame that state and local government workers don't have the same federal protections that OHSA provides for non-government workers.

Public sector or private sector should make no difference when it comes to protecting the health of the community.

If OSHA did apply, then President Biden's instructions to OSHA to require vaccinations for all employers having 100 or more workers would force Jefferson County (and the City of Port Townsend) to have 100% of the staff vaccinated.

It would also give political "cover" to the commissioners who have thus far been reluctant to institute that essential public health measure.

Public employees should not be forced to endanger their health by being required to work next to people who refuse to follow the advice of the CDC.

Saturday, September 11
John Conley

I agree wholeheartedly with Tom: public sector workers should not have to be exposed to their unvaccinated co-workers. Furthermore, the public should not be forced to receive services from unvaccinated public employees.

I am disappointed with our County Commissioners, whom I have supported (and voted for) for taking the cowardly way out (sorry, but that is what it is) when it comes to this particular issue. As someone who spent almost all of his career in Federal and local government (in public health), I understand not wanting to "run afoul" of the civil service unions that we depend upon. That is not an acceptable excuse for dodging a critically important public health issue. Sit down with the unions, and negotiate some common sense, essential, steps that need to be taken in curbing COVID. Come to agreement. Some employees may leave, no matter the end result. Again, that is not a justifiable excuse for dodging this issue. I know recruiting qualified employees is a challenge. That's not an acceptable excuse for dodging this.

Vaccinated individuals working for County government, and the vaccinated public (as well as the unvaccinated) whom they serve, deserve to know that all County workers are vaccinated. Our County Commissioners really need to step up on this issue. Please listen to Dr. Berry.

And yes, this needs to apply to City of Port Townsend employees as well as County employees.

Saturday, September 11