Mecklenburg to require county employees to show proof of COVID vaccine or get tested

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Mecklenburg government workers who are not vaccinated will need to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing starting next month, the county announced late Monday.

And those who are vaccinated will need to show proof of vaccination starting Sept. 1, County Manager Dena Diorio said in her board bulletin, sent via email to the community on Monday night.

Vaccinations are not required for general county employees, Diorio emphasized.

But the new immunization policy comes after Mecklenburg officials reported the county’s death toll had reached 1,000 since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.

Mecklenburg County Public Health already had announced that all employees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 7. Employees who refuse the vaccine will face “disciplinary action,” though the mandate does include religious and medical exemptions, Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said last week.

Mecklenburg has 5,225 full and part-time employees, county spokesman Andy Fair told the Observer recently.

The health department has 850 full-time and 33 part-time employees.

The county is also pushing back some of its return-to-work plans, Diorio said, as coronavirus conditions worsen.

Among county employees, those who do not get their COVID vaccine will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test each week to the human resources department.

Through this program, vaccinated employees will not need to wear masks in county facilities.

For now, all county employees — regardless of vaccination status — will be required to wear face coverings inside all county buildings staring Aug. 1 “due to the county’s high rates of COVID-19 transmission.” Masks aren’t required when employees are eating, drinking or sitting alone in their offices or cubicles.

Unvaccinated county employees should also wear masks outdoors on county property, if they are unable to follow social distancing guidelines, Diorio said.

New CDC guidance

Diorio’s announcement aligns with mask-wearing guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. People in areas experiencing high COVID transmission should resume wearing masks indoors, the CDC said. That includes the greater Charlotte area and most of North Carolina.

Harris supports the CDC’s guidance, as the delta variant accelerates the spread of COVID-19 in and around Charlotte. But as health director, Harris lacks the authority to issue a local mask mandate herself.

That type of restriction would likely need the unanimous support of Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and Mecklenburg County commissioners’ chairman George Dunlap, as well as the mayors of the county’s six towns. But not all leaders, including Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla and Matthews Mayor John Higdon, support another mask mandate.

At a news conference last week, Gov. Roy Cooper urged all North Carolinians to get vaccinated. Yet wearing a mask indoors, Cooper did not issue a mask mandate despite alarming coronavirus trends.

2 major Charlotte employers begin requiring masks. Here’s what we know.

He is, however, requiring select state employees that are part of the Governor’s Office or headed by members of the Governor’s Cabinet to show proof of vaccination or comply with weekly COVID-19 testing and masking.

He urged private employers to encourage their employees to do the same, at a minimum.

Starting Monday, two of Charlotte’s biggest employers — Lowe’s and Duke Energy — implemented mask requirements for employees when indoors.

About half of Mecklenburg residents are not yet vaccinated, according to the state’s latest public health data.

On average, Mecklenburg is now logging about 350 new cases each day, compared to 42 one month ago. County health officials on Friday said the average rate of positive rates rose to 11%, compared to 3.1% one month ago.

“Despite significant prevention efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in the community, primarily among unvaccinated individuals...” the county manager’s bulletin says. “The most effective tool to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is to get the vaccine.”

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