Starting Nov. 1, unvaccinated Greensboro city employees will have to get tested for COVID-19 every week.
The policy builds on a previous one that incentivized the vaccine for city employees, allowing those who got the shot to apply for up to eight hours of paid time off. Testing for unvaccinated employees will be covered by the city and will be available during work hours. Those with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 will be tested regardless of vaccination status.
“It basically sets out expectations for all employees,” said Jamiah Waterman, Greensboro’s director of human resources. “Vaccinated employees have one set of expectations and unvaccinated employees have another.”
A confidential survey of Greensboro’s city employees conducted by the city and released on Sept. 1 found that 600 respondents were fully vaccinated, amounting to 90.1 percent. An additional 2.4 percent were in the process of attaining full vaccination at the time.
“Most of us city employees understand the desire to keep each other and our community safe,” said Waterman. “Many of us have been vaccinated and wearing masks, and this is just the next sort of step.”
High Point employees will receive $250 if vaccinated by Nov. 30, and an additional $250 if more than 70 percent of all city employees get vaccinated.
Earlier this month, Winston-Salem offered every full-time city employee $1,000 if they got the shot within the next six weeks. Part-time employees will get $500 if they get vaccinated within that timeframe. After six weeks, full-time employees will be eligible for $500 and part time employees $200. Unvaccinated city employees within the six-week period will get tested weekly for at least a month.
“The thought was to incentivize those employees who chose to take that active step in curbing such a deadly disease,” said Marquis Barnett, Winston-Salem’s human resources director. “As we looked at drafting a policy, we looked at how to incentivize instead of punish.”
Earlier drafts of Winston-Salem’s vaccine requirements included more punitive measures, such as unvaccinated employees being disqualified for promotions. Feedback was overwhelmingly negative.
“Policies are living, breathing things, and you have to listen to the people that are going to be impacted by those policies,” said Barnett. “We’ve been working on this for quite a while, and we’ve looked outside the Triad to figure out what works.”
Winston-Salem worked with 10 of the state’s largest municipalities to design its incentive programs. These include cities like Charlotte and Durham, both offering $250, and Fayetteville, offering $100 to city employees who choose to get vaccinated.
Barnett found that cities with higher incentives had more vaccinated city employees.
“It seemed like they did the best job at moving the needle,” he said. “No pun intended.”
Elise Allison, an archivist at the Greensboro History Museum and a city employee, said that she is happy to have the additional eight hours of leave provided by the city, but she would have gotten vaccinated either way. She said she is glad more people are getting vaccinated but that in n her day-to-day work, she interacts with few of her fellow city employees. She said she comes into contact more with visitors to the museum.
“[Being vaccinated] is pretty important to me because I have elderly parents,” she said. “But of course we have the public coming and going. It’s an old building from the 1890s and we’re far apart, so we may actually spend more time with the public than with each other. We’re still doing our meetings online. I have volunteers who work in my office, but I don’t have another city employee within shouting distance.”
Rodney Dawson, Greensboro’s Curator of Education at the Greensboro History Museum, says that the people he’s spoken to have a wide range of reactions. One of Dawson’s friends thinks no one should get a vaccine. His family largely thinks that choosing not to get vaccinated is negligence.
Dawson is vaccinated himself and says that he feels fairly safe at work, since they all wear masks and require guests to wear them too. Greensboro has required masks at indoor locations since August.
Overall, Dawson feels good about the vaccine policies and hopes they will keep people safe.
“[The city manager] puts an emphasis on caring for one another,” he said. “They set that expectation. When they’ve come with policies regarding COVID, my perspective is that it comes from a good place.”
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