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Arlington sees bump in vaccinated employees as mandate deadline nears

The COVID-19 vaccine (via Arlington County/YouTube)

The threat of job loss over vaccination status may have motivated some 104 permanent Arlington County employees to get the shot.

County employees have until next Tuesday (Feb. 1) to get the jab or obtain a medical or religious exemption, otherwise they go on unpaid leave for one month. If they obtain neither before Feb. 28, they lose their jobs.

Since mid-December, when ARLnow last reported on the upcoming deadline for employees, nearly 38% of unvaccinated employees have received the vaccine, according to Arlington Public Health Division spokesman Ryan Hudson.

With less than a week to before the deadline, 174 employees, or 5.5% of the county’s permanent workforce, remain unvaccinated — a number that includes people with religious and medical accommodations.

The uptick over the last 40 days brings the county’s employee vaccination rate to 94.5%, up from 91%, or 2,976 of 3,150 county employees.

Back in August, Arlington County mandated vaccines for all permanent county employees, requiring those who were unvaccinated to submit to weekly testing. A few months later, the county sharpened the teeth behind the mandate by setting the Feb. 28 deadline.

This step prompted a group of first responders and other county employees to launch a petition, asking the county for “more reciprocal ideas” for ensuring employee health and safety, such as continuing testing. Today, the petition has about 350 signatures.

Arlington County Board members re-endorsed the mandate during their regular meeting on Saturday, after a former Arlington firefighter took the podium during the public comment period to say not getting the shot is an “inexcusable dereliction of duty,” unless there’s a legitimate medical exemption.

“I don’t believe any public safety employee who refuses a vaccine at this time is doing anything other than defying the very essence of their job,” said retired firefighter Mike Staples.

He thanked the 90% of the fire department who’ve received the vaccine for “upholding the longstanding reputation we’ve built of demonstrating a selfless commitment to public safety.”

Staples said the firefighters who are holding out are “in the wrong line of work.”

Despite their controversy, workplace mandates have been shown to increase vaccination rates.

County Board members appeared unfazed by the potential loss of workers come Feb. 28, despite reports of ongoing and predicted workforce shortages among first responders and in other county departments.

“We are at this point talking about a relative few who have either not complied with getting the shots or have not qualified for a legitimate medical or religious exemption,” Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey said. “The good news is that is at such a high number there will be no negative or adverse impact on county service delivery with the implementation of this requirement. We do thank everyone doing their part to keep our community safe.”

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