Most Thurston County Workers Have Complied With New COVID-19 Vaccine Policy

Posted

About 85% of Thurston County employees had complied with mandates requiring vaccination or testing for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, Nov 10.

Out of 1,258 active employees, 992 have verified their vaccination status and 81 have opted to test weekly, Human Resources Director Maria Aponte shared with The Olympian. However, she said the numbers can change daily.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a vaccine policy 2-1 with an Oct. 31 deadline after dozens of people voiced their support during a public comment period. The policy requires employees to prove they have been vaccinated or test weekly to remain employed.

So far, Aponte said only one person has been fired for not complying with the county's policy. That person worked at Public Health and Social Services, she added.

Though the Oct. 31 deadline has passed, about 185 employees had not shared their vaccination status with the county as of Wednesday.

Aponte said these employees have not yet complied for a few reasons. Some employees may have been on leave when asked to comply, so they may not have been checking their work email. Other employees may have had difficulty reporting their status.

"Some employees either didn't get the email or they reported it as phishing," Aponte said. "It's just taking a little bit of extra time to get the emails resent and having them upload that information."

Since this is a new process, Aponte said the county is trying to be reasonable in helping people comply even after the initial deadline.

"It's a brand-new policy," Aponte said. "We're navigating uncharted territory. ... We're learning, adapting and trying to do our best."

Policies from different jurisdictions and bargaining agreements with unions have led to different deadlines for some employees, she said.

Aponte said healthcare workers involved with Medic One and Public Health and Social Services had to get vaccinated by the state's Oct. 18 deadline.

Meanwhile, she said about 230 union employees within the Sheriff's Office have an extended Nov. 15 deadline because of bargaining agreements.

"It just took longer," Aponte said. "We had more bargaining sessions with that group so it was just a matter of timing."

Additionally, she said Superior and District courts have set their own vaccine mandates with Nov. 15 deadlines. These employees must get vaccinated or request an acceptable accommodation, she said.

County employees who opt to test weekly can do so onsite on county time with a self-administered rapid antigen test, Aponte said. These tests are observed by testers from Remote Medical International, a company the county pays to provide testing services.

She said the county has been sponsoring two sites: one at its main Lakeridge Drive campus and another at its Public Works facility on Tilley Road. Each site opens two days a week for eight hours with two testers at each site.

Each test costs $31, which is split evenly between the county and the employee in most cases, she said. This cost sharing model applies to union represented and non-represented employees, she added.

"The county negotiated agreements with several unions to pay one half of the cost of testing through the employer sponsored program, up to $20 per test each week," Aponte said.

However, the county pays the full cost of each test for union represented employees within the Sheriff's Office due to a bargaining agreement, she said.

In addition to the cost for each test, she said the county must pay RMI $500 per tester. This means the county pays about $4,000 each week to have testers onsite.

Employees who work remotely under a hybrid model must comply with the county's vaccine policy. As of Friday, Aponte said the county is still working through the requirements it may impose on those who work entirely remotely.

Aponte said human resources does not know exactly how many employees are teleworking part time or full time because each office or department approves its own telework requests.

However, she shared data from the county's information technology department that indicates about 300 devices used the county's virtual private network for telework each day in October.