Northam will require state employees to get vaccinated
Employees who do not comply will be tested weekly
State employees will be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 1 or be tested weekly, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday, as the delta variant has led to rising cases.
“Today, I’m taking an important step to protect employees,” Northam said at a news conference, adding that the measure is also “to keep the people that we serve safe.” Recalling his time as an Army surgeon during the first Gulf War, Northam said he has intubated patients, much as frontline health care workers do today for COVID patients with the most severe cases, and that vaccines can prevent such serious cases in most people, even with the highly contagious delta variant.
The state employs about 122,000 people. About 72% or 73% of employees have been vaccinated, state Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson said Thursday. She added that state employees will be required to sign a form noting their vaccination status and that there will be exemptions for religious and ADA reasons, with details to come.
If employees choose not to get tested, “obviously we’ll take the next measure,” Northam said.
The state’s Department of Human Resource Management is expected to issue policies, procedures and guidance no later than Aug. 15.
The written directive specifies that the mandate applies to the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, the secretary of the commonwealth, executive branch agencies, institutions of higher education and others. It does not apply to state contractors.
“In order to protect the safety of Virginia’s workforce and the people we serve, it is necessary to require state employees to be vaccinated and to encourage other employers to do the same,” according to the written directive.
On Wednesday, the city of Richmond became the first Virginia locality to mandate vaccination of its employees, including those who telework, while President Joe Biden is also requiring federal employees to be vaccinated. Health systems, universities and businesses also have put in place requirements in recent weeks as rates of infection have risen among unvaccinated people.
In some places in Virginia, workers and have chafed at their employers’ vaccine requirements, including at various Valley Health hospitals in the Shenandoah Valley, where hundreds of employees have protested. Valley Health announced its employees must get vaccinated by Nov. 1 or face suspension or termination. At Virginia Tech, where students are required to be vaccinated for the fall semester, whether they are attending in person or online, some have signed a petition protesting the order.
Northam’s directive is based on Biden’s mandate, the governor’s office said in a news release. Other states, including North Carolina, California and New York, have put in place vaccination requirements for at least some of their state employees, and Maryland has required that employees working in “congregate settings” must get their shots.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers can require workers to be vaccinated against COVID as long as they do not violate the Americans with Disabilities and Civil Rights acts. In many states, lawmakers have submitted bills to ban such mandates, but so far, Virginia has passed no such legislation, which would likely fail in the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
About 13,000 people a day in Virginia are getting a shot now, Northam said, and the Virginia Department of Health reported Thursday that 4.6 million people in Virginia are fully vaccinated, reflecting 54.3% of the total population, while 60.9% has received at least one dose.
When asked if Northam would mandate the general public be vaccinated, he said “I am in charge of 120,000…that is who I have control over.”
“I encourage businesses across the commonwealth to join that lead,” Northam said. “The time for waiting is over.”
In February, the General Assembly passed a law requiring school divisions to provide in-person learning. The law requires that schools offer in-person instruction five days a week and follow Centers for Disease Control & Prevention mitigation strategies, Northam said.
“The CDC guidance is that people in schools need to be wearing masks,” he said. If school divisions choose not to follow the law, “they should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel.”
In terms of vaccinations, Northam said, “We still don’t have FDA authorization to vaccinate children younger than 12, although I am hopeful that this will come this fall just in the next few weeks.”