Vaccination mandate gives county employees deadline

Vince Long

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Getting vaccinated wasn’t the easiest decision that Royle King, a Leon County employee, ever made.

He’d hesitated until the coronavirus began to affect people that he knew and cared about.

“I was on the fence about getting it at all, but I had some family members and friends succumbed to the virus,” King said. “As it started to get worse, I talked to my family and made the decision that it was best for me and the people around me to go ahead and vaccinate myself.”

King is a Volunteer Services manager for the county government. He was one of 1,000 employees who received a memo dated July 28 from County Administrator Vince Long mandating that they get vaccinated or face termination.

The memo also stated that unvaccinated employees could be required to present a negative COVID-19 test weekly.

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Long gave the ultimatum to employees under his jurisdiction as the Delta variant of the virus has caused increased infection in the county and statewide. King said he was surprised by the mandate at first, but he understood that hesitancy made Long’s decision necessary.

“Somebody had to make the uncomfortable, but necessary decision to protect everybody,” King said. “I agree with it because we have to do something and you’re not just getting it for yourself you’re getting it for all the people that you interact with.”

That essentially is part of Long’s reasoning for issuing the mandate, Long said in an interview with the Outlook. He’s also concerned about infections reducing the manpower in areas where the county has to offer services.

“Vaccinations against COVID-19 will now become a condition of employment at Leon County Government for new and existing employees under the supervision of the County Administrator and the County Attorney,” Long wrote in the memo.

Elected county officials are exempted from the mandate, along with individuals whose health condition allows them to get what’s known as an accommodation. All others have until Oct. 1 to report their vaccination status to the county’s human resource office.

Employees who receive an accommodation will be required to also wear a mask while on the job.

“Ultimately, we have to be responsive to the community that we serve and we need to do absolutely everything we can with the information we have available to us to act responsibly,” Long said. “We think this was the only option for us.

“This is something that we needed to do.”

A few weeks after the notice to county employees, the White House issued a similar vaccination mandate, requiring all nursing home employees in the state be vaccinated. The federal mandate applies to most of the 700 nursing homes in Florida that rely on funding from Medicaid and Medicare.

During a meeting with reporters last Thursday in Volusia County, Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed concern over staffing shortages that could result if unvaccinated people can’t work.

“They’re already short-staffed,” DeSantis said, according to a report by the News Service of Florida. “And there’s a lot of people that feel strongly against being mandated, that they think it should be something that they choose and they may have reasons why they make different choices. So I don’t know how it’s going to work.”

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