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Council considers COVID work requirements

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 22, 2021



The Sanibel City Council reached a consensus on COVID protocols for city staff during its meeting last Monday.

Council agreed to encourage current city staff to get the COVID vaccine or to at least mask up indoors if not; provide financial incentives to those who do or have gotten vaccinated; and to hire workers who have gotten their vaccination.

With President Joe Biden announcing a vaccination mandate and cajoling cities and businesses to get their workers vaccinated, Councilmember John Henshaw felt there needed to be discussion on the matter.

“We need the conversation. We’re hemorrhaging from the ravages of COVID. We like to pick the information we like and don’t look at the data,” Henshaw said. There is lost time and effectiveness from staff because of illness and quarantine. There are consequences on city services in cost time and what residents want and deserve.”

Councilmember Scott Crater gave some more data that was even more stark. People are 11 times more likely to die from COVID if unvaccinated. Of every 100 people in intensive care from COVID, 93 are unvaccinated and the seven vaccinated patients are likely suffering from other ailments. The unvaccinated are also 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and five times more likely to get COVID.

Mayor Holly Smith said she would like to use the carrot approach to vaccination by offering $500 to any city employee who has been vaccinated and can show proof by Oct. 30.

She also lamented how, 18 months after the world was turned upside down by COVID, they are still fighting the fight with a variant.

“Who thought we would be here today? These conversations are happening again and we are careful to make the right decisions at the right time,” Smith said. “At this point, a mandatory vaccination wasn’t something we were comfortable with. A lot will be determined by what the president was.”

Henshaw also advocated for requiring those who don’t want the vaccine to wear the N-95 or K-95 masks indoors while requiring new hires be vaccinated.

“Potential workers have a choice. They can decide whether they want to work here or not,” Henshaw said.

They concede, there will be issues with those who may choose individual liberty and choice. But companies and cities have the right to hire someone or not based on their getting the shot.

All city employees will be tracked to see who got vaccinated and who didn’t, Smith said, adding testing would be difficult, since workers are on different shifts.

“More time will be needed before we enact that,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t have a special meeting. Any council member can call a special meeting.”

Of the current workers in the city, 78 are vaccinated, six are partially vaccinated, 48 have turned in papers saying they are not vaccinated and 38 have not responded to a survey, according to City Manager Judie Zimomra.

Another concern raised was that mandating vaccinations could cause resignations at a time when the city’s workforce is already slim and make people not want to work there.

“We are not taking away choice, but telling them what we expect,” Vice Mayor Richard Johnson said.

Another thing many aren’t considering, Crater said, is that for children to go to school, they are required to get shots for many diseases.