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Arlington County lifts vax mandate for employees as public health emergency ends

A vaccine shot (via Arlington County/YouTube)

Arlington County is lifting its vaccine mandate for anyone who works or volunteers for county government.

The change today (Thursday) coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ending the national public health emergency.

“Effective May 11, 2023, consistent with the end of the National Public Health Emergency, employees (including contractors and volunteers) are no longer required to provide proof of vaccination status for employment,” Arlington County spokesman Ryan Hudson told ARLnow in a statement.

“Employees are still urged to engage in mitigation measures as appropriate and to stay up to date on vaccinations,” he continued.

Arlington County mandated vaccines for all government employees in August 2021, requiring those who were unvaccinated to submit to weekly testing. Unvaccinated employees were told to get the jab or an exemption before Feb. 1, 2022 or face job loss.

A group of people who decided not to get the vaccine, largely first responders, petitioned the county for “more reciprocal ideas,” such as continuing testing. The mandate seemed to work somewhat, with the number of unvaccinated workers dropping from 278 to 174 in about a month.

By March 1, 2022, some 125 people obtained exemptions. The county said everyone complied with county policy and no one was fired.

The CDC’s emergency declaration at the start of the pandemic empowered the federal government to track Covid cases and deaths with greater granularity, among other measures. Now, it says it is time to integrate its emergency response into programs it already has.

“As a nation, we now find ourselves at a different point in the pandemic — with more tools and resources than ever before to better protect ourselves and our communities,” it said in a statement, adding that these changes will make its Covid response more sustainable in the long term.

The CDC says vaccines, treatments and testing will remain available but the data it publishes and the sources it uses will be different.

“Case data has become increasingly unreliable as some states and jurisdictions may no longer collect case data, testing results are sometimes not reported, or some individuals skip testing all together,” the CDC notes.

Some of these factors, plus vaccines and three years of exposure, may explain lowering case rates in Arlington. The county is seeing about five cases per day, down from about 60 cases a day this past winter, per Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Covid cases in Arlington County reported to the Virginia Dept. of Health over the last 13 weeks (via VDH)

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement this morning that the ending of the public health emergency declaration should be followed by the implementation of laws and policies that will strengthen the health system, prepare us for the next such crisis, and address the end of the asylum policy known as Title 42.

When COVID-19 hit, Congress acted with force and urgency to save lives and livelihoods, taking actions that were made possible by the Public Health Emergency declaration, which opened the door to a wealth of additional tools and flexibilities. More than three years later, I’m proud to know that our nation has reached a point where we can move beyond the emergency stage of COVID-19 and the corresponding PHE declaration. Now, it’s up to Congress to adopt more permanent policies that reflect the valuable lessons we learned during this crisis, and that allow us to move forward rather than backwards. We must continue to strengthen our public health response capabilities, ensure that health care is affordable and easy to access through robust telehealth options, and improve the security of our southwest border while creating a better functioning asylum process and a reasonable path towards legal status for those who are undocumented. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress on these issues.

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