As COVID-19 vaccination deadline approaches for 32,000 Connecticut state employees, Gov. Lamont says National Guard will not be needed though thousands still out of compliance

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Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that he won’t need to call up the National Guard to replace state employees who refuse to comply with the state’s vaccine mandate.

Compliance is now over 90%, Lamont said Monday afternoon, which means the National Guard will not be needed. “They are still on stand by, but I don’t think we are going to need them.”

Lamont had set a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday night ordering 32,000 state employees to get vaccinated or agree to undergo weekly testing. Those who do not comply will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.

“Sometimes a deadline focuses the mind a little bit,” Lamont said, adding that he also has no plans to give employees an extension.

On Sunday, the governor’s office struck a more optimistic tone than last week, when Lamont said the National Guard could be called in to fill in for state workers who fail to comply with the new COVID-19 rules. At the time, as many of 8,000 workers — about a quarter of those in the executive branch — were out of compliance.

“The administration continues to expect that most of the remaining noncompliant employees will submit the required documentation to the state by the evening of Monday, Oct. 4, and that there should be minimal impact to operations as a result,” Lamont’s office said.

What did the governor order?

Lamont is seeking to further reduce the spread of COVID-19, which registered a positivity rate of 2.16% as of Friday, and has ordered state employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. He will require executive branch employees to be placed on unpaid leave if they are not vaccinated by 11:59 p.m. or agree to be tested weekly.

State health insurance plans will pay for the first four COVID-19 tests for any employees obtaining tests at sites that are not already providing free tests. State employees can use sick time, personal leave and vacation to leave work for testing.

What will happen beginning Tuesday?

Workers who refuse to comply could begin to be replaced Tuesday and will be put on unpaid leave no later than Oct. 11.

Lamont last week said the Connecticut National Guard will start planning to replace unvaccinated state employees, but Sunday evening said the expected disruption to state operations would be minimal.

The Guard would be in place this week “to support operations until replacement employees can be hired or noncompliant employees come into compliance,” the governor’s office said.

Andrew Matthews, executive director of the state police union, says the National Guard could not replace trained troopers. A spokesman said the Guard has many skills that could apply to state government in an emergency.

Which state employees are affected?

Lamont has jurisdiction over the executive branch. Legislative and judicial branch workers are not among those who must comply with the governor’s order.’

Executive branch workers include those who issue drivers licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles, employees who enforce state consumer protection laws, tax collectors at the Department of Revenue Services and thousands of others.

What do the unions say?

The state workers union asked for a 20-day extension, but were turned down. A spokesman for Lamont had said the order was initially announced in August and the deadline will not be extended again. The original deadline was Sept. 27.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition or SEBAC, the collection of unions that represents about 40,000 workers, says it has “zero confidence” in the Lamont administration to collect and present accurate numbers on noncompliance.

But SEBAC has said it will not speak until Monday “at the soonest,” and a spokeswoman declined Sunday to comment.

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.

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