WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – COVID-19 numbers are worsening by the day in southeastern North Carolina.
As cases of the virus soar, New Hanover County has put new policies in place for their 2,000 employees.
Effective Tuesday, New Hanover County mandates employees report their vaccination status by Sept. 1. Anyone not fully vaccinated, must get tested weekly for COVID-19. Testing will be provided by a third party vendor at the expense of New Hanover County, through the use of American Rescue Plan funds.
Anyone hired in the future must also be fully vaccinated, with exemptions provided for federally approved medical or religious exemptions.
Their aim is to reach 75 percent vaccinated within their organization by Oct. 1. Leaders say reaching that level would signal “organizational immunity” and would ensure they are able to continue the county’s day-to-day operations and also handle emergencies, like a hurricane.
“I feel like we’ve arrived at a policy, that number one, ensures continuity of government and we have a responsibility to ensure the functions and services, but also to ensure that we made for a safer and healthier work environment, so we’re here because it’s the right thing to do,” explained County Manager Chris Coudriet. “We have not mandated [vaccinations] for existing employees, but we have reserve the right, as policy generally does, to do more and go further if that’s necessary.”
The decision wasn’t a light one, coming after long meetings with lawyers, county leadership and public health experts, weighting the rights of everyone, whether they’re vaccinated or not.
“You have to look at personal choice. I’m a firm believer in personal choice, but I’ve had employees come to me saying, ‘I’m vaccinated, I’m doing everything I can to stay well. People who are not vaccinated are putting me at risk.’ So, I have to balance those two views and I believe everyone’s entitled to a safe and healthy workplace so a lot of conversation, a lot of data review, a lot of ethical decision making went into play,” said Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko.
The COVID-19 case numbers, however, have reached a critical level for the entire New Hanover County community.
“We’re very similar to almost a year ago. The trajectory is basically straight up, the numbers of cases. The number of hospitalizations have gone in the past 5 to 6 weeks from literally one to yesterday it was 62,” said Public Health Director David Howard. “That trajectory is the same as we were seeing before we had a vaccine and that’s very troubling. Even though we have 53 percent of the general population vaccinated, it impacts our ability to serve the public.”
He says the policy comes at a good time; the vaccine has been out for months and the evidence is clear that the only way out of this pandemic is to increase vaccinations before a new variant comes about that vaccines may not be able to help.
“It’s this unseen threat, it’s not something we can see coming up. We have the science to tell us it’s coming, and we need people to trust that science,” added Howard.
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