All executive branch employees in Allegheny County’s government will soon be required to be vaccinated from COVID-19, but don’t expect any neighboring counties to follow suit.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced Wednesday that workers under his leadership will be required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1 or face termination, although the order does not include other employees, such as those working in the courthouse.
“As we continue to see cases of COVID in our county, and different populations being affected than were previously, it is even more important that our workforce be protected so that the public that we serve is protected as well,” Fitzgerald in a written statement. “This is the right thing for our county and our workforce.”
About 75% of all workers in the county government’s executive branch are already fully vaccinated from COVID-19, according to county officials. The county began requiring all new hires to be vaccinated starting in August.
While area officials in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties said they’re monitoring the situation, there are no plans to mandate a vaccine for their government workers.
However, Washington County has offered an “incentive” of a half-sick day to anyone who can prove they are vaccinated, which officials said was to give workers time to get the shots. So far, 314 workers out of about 860 part-time and full-time employees have shown proof of vaccination, although county Human Resources Director Shelli Arnold said that number could be higher because they’re not required to show their status. But even with only 36% of the county’s workforce known to be vaccinated, there are no plans to mandate it.
Commission Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan said they are following state and federal health guidelines, and are requiring unvaccinated workers to quarantine at home if they come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. If an unvaccinated employee misses time, that worker must then use county sick leave while away.
“They really work on the front lines and are with people every day,” Irey Vaughan said.
Although they’re not mandating the vaccine, Irey Vaughan and fellow commissioners Nick Sherman and Larry Maggi are trying to set an example for county employees by being vaccinated themselves. Irey Vaughan and Sherman announced in April they were getting vaccinated, while Maggi received his two doses last summer while participating in Pfizer’s clinical trial in Columbus, Ohio. Maggi said last week he still has not received a booster shot while he remains in the trial.
“Choosing to be vaccinated for us was trying to lead by example,” Irey Vaughan said, while adding she also recently received a flu vaccine. “We have a very strong wellness program (in Washington County). My opinion, for me, was the COVID vaccine was another step for wellness.”
Greene County Chief Clerk Jeff Marshall said there are no plans to require the vaccine for county employees, which is a decision that ultimately would be up to the commissioners. Marshall added that county leaders are not “tracking” employee vaccines statuses, nor asking to see vaccination cards.
“We’re evaluating things day-to-day and see how things go,” Marshall said. “They’re looking at it daily, but nothing is imminent.”
Greene County Commission Chairman Mike Belding said they’re recommending that employees follow federal and state health guidelines, but they have no plans to go beyond that since the county does not have its own health department. If the guidance from those agencies change, the county will notify its workers about the updated policies, he said.
“That’s been our stance from the beginning. We don’t have a health department in the county, so we refer them to the educated authoritative (agencies) above us ... and we leave it at that,” Belding said.
The county does not expect to offer an incentive program for employees to get vaccinated, Belding said, because the shots are now widely available. He declined to reveal whether he has been vaccinated, preferring to keep that information private.
“The vaccine has been available for so long, I can’t image they haven’t had time to go get it. I don’t see a requirement to do that,” Belding said. “They can make up their own decisions.”
Belding’s counterpart in Fayette County, Commission Chairman Dave Lohr agreed, saying there will be no mandate for government employees there.
“I will not mandate, “Lohr said while emphasizing he was speaking for himself and not on the behalf of the other two commissioners. “I feel it is a choice of every person (whether) to get a shot or not. This is my opinion.”
Fayette County Human Resources Director Cristi Spiker reiterated that in an emailed statement, saying they will continue to follow federal rules as they currently stand.
“The federal vaccine mandates are being developed under OSHA,” Spiker said. “Local and state governments are not subject to OSHA regulations, so the county will not have to comply.”