NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board recommended last week that vaccines are mandated for New Hanover County employees, county administration has come up with a middle-of-the road strategy to help keep viral spread at bay. Effective Tuesday, Aug. 10, New Hanover County employees will need to verify their vaccination status, though won’t be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Those who remain unvaccinated will resort to free weekly tests.
All county employees must wear masks inside county buildings, regardless of vaccination, which the county manager signed off on last week and put into effect Friday.
“I am thankful to the Health and Human Services Board for its analysis, debate, and recommendation to the county,” county manager Chris Coudriet said in a release. “The health of our community and our employees was central to their discussion and is what we used as a guiding principle in creating this policy.”
Employees must verify their vaccine by Sept. 1 through the county’s health clinic, which uses an independent organization, Synergy Healthcare, to keep track of the vaccinations. Anyone who is hired by the county moving forward will be required to get a vaccination and will be informed as much; the county will make exemptions for federally approved medical or religious reasons.
The policy states employees who falsify information will face dismissal.
Unvaccinated employees will begin their first round of tests between Sept. 9 and 15. Rapid antigen tests will be provided by a third-party vendor and is paid for with funds from the American Rescue Plan. They are allowed to test during normal work hours; if they choose to do so outside of work hours, it will not be compensated.
Anyone on leave status for more than seven days also will be required to provide a negative test before returning to work. Employees who test positive must quarantine for 10 days and retest after symptoms have subsided, and must present a negative test before returning to work.
The county had 529 new cases between Aug. 1 and 8, and over two weeks has had almost 800 new cases — a significant jump since the beginning of July when cases were around 20 a week. According to the CDC tracker, New Hanover is at 10.84% positivity.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the majority of new cases and hospitalizations can be traced to those who remain unvaccinated. Donna Fayko, New Hanover’s health and human services director, said she is happy the county fell in line with Gov. Roy Cooper’s strategy for cabinet agency employees.
“We believe it will allow us to manage this virus and its spread within our organization, so that we can continue our work to serve the community,” Fayko said. “I encourage other employers in the community to follow the county’s lead in this effort, and work to get all of their employees vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The release also noted New Hanover County’s goal to reach vaccinations is “no less than 75 percent of the organization” by Oct. 1.
“We have a goal to maintain continuity of the county’s operations by ensuring the safety and health of our workforce,” Coudriet added in a release, “because we cannot provide the critical services we need to, or respond during an emergency like a hurricane, if our employees are sick or quarantined. And I believe this policy will help us ensure that goal is met.”
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