Mecklenburg requiring health department workers to get COVID vaccine

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Mecklenburg County Public Health employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by early fall, officials announced Monday.

The vaccination requirement takes effect on Aug. 2, Mecklenburg officials said. By Sept. 7, health department employees will need to show proof of vaccination.

The goal is to protect patients and staff, officials said, including against the more contagious delta variant that’s led to rising new case counts and hospitalizations this month. As of June 25, more than one-third of local cases were identified as that worrisome strain, Harris told the Observer last week.

“As public health staff, we have led the COVID-19 response efforts for the County and know too well the very high level of sickness, death, and impact the pandemic has had in our community,” Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said in a statement Monday. “Despite significant prevention efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in our community.”

The requirement is similar to Mecklenburg’s influenza vaccine requirement for workers, officials said.

Public Health does not know how many employees are already inoculated, Harris said in a separate statement to the Observer. The department has 850 full-time, 33 part-time and 13 temporary employees.

Employees can seek medical or religious exemption for the COVID vaccine, Harris said.

“If a staff person refuses there will be disciplinary action and they will be required to mask 100% of the time while conducting county business and while in county buildings,” Harris said.

StarMed Healthcare, one of the county’s vaccination partners, will also require employees to get their shots by Sept. 1, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Arin Piramzadian told the Observer. Of StarMed’s roughly 300 full-time employees, about 80% are fully vaccinated and “most of the rest” are partially vaccinated.

“We have been educating our staff on the safety of vaccines since started distributing them in December,” Piramzadian said.

Health department services

Mecklenburg Health Department offers two clinic-based centers for medical care in Charlotte, at 2845 Beatties Ford Road and 249 Billingsley Road. Some services, including COVID-19 vaccinations, are occasionally provided at the Valerie C. Woodard Center at 3205 Freedom Drive.

This month, the health department is hosting immunizations events for children ages 11 to 18 ahead of the start of the school year.

Public Health offers free screenings for breast and colorectal cancer, pap smear tests and dental treatment for eligible residents. There are also family planning and STD clinics at the health department, plus services to help pregnant and new mothers.

Mecklenburg is not requiring all 5,255 full and part-time county government employees to get inoculated, but it is strongly recommended. Unvaccinated individuals will need to wear masks at work.

Charlotte government workers are not required to get vaccinated “at this time,” city spokesman Cory Burkarth told the Observer.

Still, Burkarth said: “We want all of our employees to get vaccinated because we believe the vaccines are safe and effective and we believe they will keep our employees safe, along with their family members and the community.”

Unvaccinated employees and visitors at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in uptown should keep wearing masks “for their safety and the safety of others,” Burkarth said.

The county’s announcement comes less than a week after Charlotte’s two hospital systems introduced vaccine mandates for their employees.

All Atrium Health workers must get vaccinated — or have an approved medical or religious exemption — by Oct. 31. For Novant Health employees, the vaccination deadline is Sept. 15.

13 NC counties now show ‘substantial’ spread of COVID-19. Is yours one of them?

COVID trends

As of Monday, 51% of Mecklenburg residents had received at least their first COVID shot, and 48% of residents were fully vaccinated, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Statewide, 49% of North Carolinians are at least partially vaccinated and 46% are fully vaccinated.

All key coronavirus metrics are worsening in Mecklenburg as vaccination rates stall. Hospitalizations, for example, increased by nearly 71% increase over the last 14 days.

The rate of positive tests, an indicator that health officials use for monitoring coronavirus spread, is now 8.6%, compared to 5.2% one week ago. At the start of July, the average weekly positivity rate was 3.2%.

But the positivity rate is still below double-digit rates observed during the winter peak, which reached as high as 16% in early January.

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