WILMINGTON, North Carolina (WWAY) – As the Delta variant continues to spread, New Hanover County hopes that 75% of its employees will be vaccinated by October 1.
The county announced Monday that employees must now verify that they are vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19. New recruits after August 10 must be vaccinated unless they qualify for the exemptions outlined by the CDC.
“We’re here because it’s the right thing to do based on data and some very good advice from the Health and Human Services Board,” County Director Chris Coudriet said.
According to Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko, there are 865 active cases of the virus in New Hanover County. 61 people are currently hospitalized and five people died last week from coronavirus, the youngest being only 48 years old.
“In numbers, we are very similar to almost a year ago because our trajectory is fundamentally straight in number of cases,” said Director of Public Health David Howard.
The county says the requirement is to ensure that existing government services will continue and that emergencies, like hurricanes, can be adequately staffed. Coudriet says the requirements are well within the legal rights.
“Employers, number one, have the power to ask their employees to represent them what their vaccination status is,” Coudriet said. “This in and of itself is not a violation of HIPAA or American with Disabilities Acts rules.”
Although legal, Coudriet and Fayko say it was a tough decision to make.
“I firmly believe in personal choice, but employees have come to me and said, ‘I am vaccinated, I am doing everything I can to stay healthy. People who are not vaccinated put me at risk. So I have to balance these two points of view because I believe that everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace, ”said Fayko.
Additionally, Fayko says they are concerned about the capacity of the health system.
“As these variants evolve, my concern is that they might evolve to the point that our vaccines are not effective,” Fayko said. “We are fortunate right now that our vaccines are effective against the delta variant because we have less than one percent of breakthrough cases in North Carolina.”
A county spokeswoman said the vaccine requirement did not apply to county commissioners because they are technically not county employees. However, they hope that the commissioners will choose to be vaccinated for their “personal safety, that of others and for the continuity of government”.