WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As the Delta variant continues to spread, New Hanover County hopes to have 75-percent of its employees vaccinated by October 1.
The county announced on Monday that employees must now verify they are vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19. New hires after August 10 are required to be vaccinated unless they qualify for exemptions outlined by the CDC.
“We’re here because it’s the right thing to do based on the data and the really sound advice from the health and human services board,” County Manager 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 in the past week due to coronavirus, the youngest person being only 48-years-old.
“By the numbers, we’re very similar to almost a year ago because our trajectory is basically straight up in numbers of cases,” Public Health Director David Howard said.
The county says the requirement is to make sure existing government services will continue and emergencies, like hurricanes, can be sufficiently staffed. Coudriet says the requirements are well within legal rights.
“Employers, number one, do have the authority to ask their employees to represent to them what is their vaccination status,” Coudriet said. “That in and of itself is not a violation of HIPAA or American with Disabilities Acts rules.”
Though legal, Coudriet and Fayko say it was a difficult decision to make.
“I’m a firm believer in personal choice, but I’ve had employees come to me and say ‘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 because I believe everybody is entitled to a safe and healthy workplace,” Fayko said.
Additionally, Fayko says they are concerned about healthcare system capacities.
“As these variants evolve, my concern is that they could evolve to the point that our vaccines are not effective,” Fayko said. “We’re fortunate right now that our vaccines are effective against the delta variant because we have less than one percent breakthrough cases in North Carolina.”
A county spokeswoman says the vaccine requirement does not apply to the county commissioners because they are not technically county employees. However, they do hope commissioners would choose to be vaccinated for their “personal safety, that of others, and for the continuity of government.”