See vaccination rates for NC state employees who need to show proof or get tested

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The vaccination rates for state employees in two kinds of uniforms are the highest and lowest rates among eight of the 10 North Carolina Cabinet agencies.

The state provided the data to The News & Observer on Wednesday. However, vaccination rates for state workers at the Department of Health and Human Services were not yet available.

Of the eight agencies with available data, the highest vaccination rate since Gov. Roy Cooper’s vaccine verification order went into effect is for those who work at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, with 82% fully vaccinated.

The lowest vaccination rate, at 53%, is for workers in the Department of Public Safety, which includes many of the statewide law enforcement agencies. One office within that agency, though, is higher that the rate for adults across the state.

About 60,000 North Carolina state employees had to be vaccinated by early September or be tested weekly for COVID-19.

Across the state, 62% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the latest DHHS data. In Wake County, home to the largest number of those state employees, 76% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

There are about 55,000 permanent state employees impacted, and another 4,000 who are temporary workers. Here is the breakdown of vaccination rates for Cooper’s Cabinet agencies and other workers subject to the new rules:

Department of Administration: 81%

Department of Environmental Quality: 81%

Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: 82%

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources: 57%

Department of Public Safety: 53%

Within the Department of Public Safety, the vaccination rate for the State Bureau of Investigation is 77%.

Department of Revenue: 79%

Department of Transportation: 60%

Information Technology: 77%

Information Technology has 1,115 permanent employees and another 33 temporary employees. Its vaccination rate for permanent employees is 78%, with 51% for the temporary ones.

Information for the vaccination rates at DHHS and the Department of Commerce was not yet available as of Wednesday night, nor were total employee counts for all agencies. DHHS requires employees and volunteers at all state-run health care facilities to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, not just submit to verification or testing.

Jill Warren Lucas, spokesperson for the Office of State Human Resources, said the rates represent ”a snapshot in time based on available data and will change as more vaccination records are validated by the agencies, as well as more employees become vaccinated and submit their records.”

Some non-Cabinet offices that are also subject to Cooper’s order:

Office of State Human Resources: 85%

Office of State Budget and Management: 91%

Discipline for vaccine holdouts?

Cooper announced the move, which requires vaccine verification or testing for employees of his Cabinet agencies and other workers under his jurisdiction, in July. He also encouraged private employers to do the same, and gave state employees until September to get vaccinated. The governor’s order came ahead of that of President Joe Biden, who has ordered the same vaccination verification or regular testing for employers who have 100 or more workers. Biden also requires federal employees to be vaccinated.

Cooper told reporters on Tuesday that he still supported the vaccination verification rather than a mandate for state employees, though “that potential is there for us.”

He said agencies are still deciding what discipline there would be for failing to either show proof of vaccination or get tested weekly. He said they wanted consistency across state government on any disciplinary measures, as well as a process for religious and medical exemptions to vaccinations.

He said more and more employees are saying they “might as well” get vaccinated.

“Every day that goes by showing this vaccination is safe and effective, more and more people are convinced. Every day that goes by, that records are clear that most of the people in the hospital and the ICU are the unvaccinated people — that’s beginning to resonate with a lot of people,” Cooper said on Tuesday.

Lucas said that the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees is currently waiving the cost of COVID-19 testing, regardless of location. Temporary employees may use their own insurance plan or be tested at a free testing site around the state.

Department of Public Safety’s Corrections agency and some of DHHS’ Division of State Facilities provide regular testing on site, she said. Workers who are paid hourly can use paid work time for testing, but exempt employees cannot. If there is on-site testing for employees, that is the location workers must use. Some agencies have held vaccination clinics on site, too.

Cooper’s focus on vaccinations has ramped up as the delta variant wave appears to be “leveling” in the state.

New employees of Cabinet agencies, including temporary workers, will be asked to attest that they will either get vaccinated or participate in weekly testing, Lucas said.

As the vaccination verification deadline approached in late August, Ardis Watkins, director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said that SEANC has received few complaints from state employees about it.

State workers can find out more about the policy at oshr.nc.gov/vaccination-or-testing-policy.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

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