Local governments will be required to comply with President Joe Biden’s vaccination or weekly test mandate.
Interim Edgecombe County Health Director Michelle Etheridge said that is based on guidance provided by the UNC School of Government to county health departments across the state.
Etheridge told county commissioners at their Oct. 4 meeting that the requirement would not go into effect until the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration develops revised rules, adding that it is uncertain how long that might take.
She also said legal challenges could develop once the guidelines are developed.
County Manager Eric Evans told commissioners that 42 percent of the county’s 550 employees are fully vaccinated — leaving 319 employees who would be required to be tested each week.
The county employee vaccination rate mirrors the 42 percent vaccination rate for the county population in general.
Evans told commissioners that such testing would be prohibitive, personnel-wise.
He said the county already has used incentives to motivate employees to get vaccinated and that another round of incentives is being considered.
County board Chairman Leonard Wiggins asked Evans about an “either/or” situation for employees in regard to getting the vaccine or looking for work elsewhere.
Evans reiterated that the OSHA rules have yet to be issued and he would like to continue to look at options to increase the vaccination rate until the time the rules are in place.
“In the meantime, we are working out the details of the logistics of implementing that requirement,” Evans told the Telegram. “That would include both verifying the employees who are vaccinated as well as setting up weekly testing for those who are not.
“Currently, around 42 percent of our employees are vaccinated. Therefore, with around 550 employees, that would mean testing over 300 employees every week.”
He said the county had just finished its first vaccination incentive effort, which was wrapped up on Oct. 8.
“It cost $1,200 in gift cards,” Evans said. “For all who showed proof of vaccination by the deadline, they were entered for a drawing of varying amounts of gift cards.”
He told commissioners that he is considering using American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for another round of vaccination incentives in which every employee who is vaccinated by a certain time would get a certain amount.
“And then if we reach an established goal, all vaccinated (employees) would get a second incentive payment,” he said.
He suggested at the board meeting that vaccinated employees might get $250, and if the county reaches the 70 percent vaccination rate they may be given another $250.
Other government units are facing the same mandate.
Tarboro Town Manager Troy Lewis said that while the town has no vaccination requirement for its 180 employees, it does encourage them to get vaccinated.
Lewis said the town has no data about how many employees are fully vaccinated.
“Because we employ a number of first responders, I imagine that we are slightly higher than the county percentage for vaccination but really do not have a precise number,” he said. “We worked with the Edgecombe County Health Department to set up special vaccination clinics for town employees, and many employees have either taken advantage of these or gotten (vaccinations) on their own.”
He said that while there is no testing program in place, the town has made it as easy as possible for employees to get tested or to receive the vaccine.
“As a division of the state, we will mandate vaccination/testing when and if the State of North Carolina requires us to do so,” he said.
Susan Hoke, communications and community relations coordinator for Edgecombe County Public Schools, said the district has about 825 employees.
“We currently do not require COVID vaccines and are currently working with Mako Medical to implement COVID testing in our schools,” she said. “We will begin by doing weekly testing voluntarily.”