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Aug 12

City Manager's Message Aug. 12: Weekly Covid-19 testing

Posted on August 12, 2021 at 3:00 PM by Don Mann

Aug. 12, 2021 — I have a message I want to share with you all. I recorded it on video, which is the closest I can come to telling you in person, and you can view it at the bottom of this message or at https://youtu.be/-QIS2mPaN0k. For those who would rather read my message, I have included it below.


I had hoped that the worst of Covid-19 was behind us, and in June it seemed that was the case. Like everyone else, I began resuming more “normal” activities as cases remained very low in Hampton. Unfortunately, that dynamic changed. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to inform you of updated CDC guidance concerning indoor mask wearing. At that time, Hampton was in the “substantial” transmission category, and I encouraged employees to strongly consider the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations. I also reminded you that vaccination is the absolute best way to protect against severe illness and death from Covid-19 and offered assistance to those who may want to revisit getting a vaccine.


Since that time, the Delta variant has spread extremely rapidly, and the overwhelming majority of our region is now in the “high” transmission category. Health experts believe that not only does this version spread more easily and rapidly, its effects appear to be more serious, even on healthy and younger people. Hospitalizations are once again up, and there are concerns about even more dangerous variants if the spread is not contained. 


These factors compel me to consider additional measures to minimize the risks to the health of our employees and their families, which is my top concern. As public servants, we also have the responsibility to ensure that we can continue to serve our residents. Finally, we have a duty to our citizens to do what we can to minimize community spread of this virus.


Our best data suggests that between 40-50% of the workforce is fully vaccinated. The real number may be greater, as we only required staff to report their status if they wanted to be exempt from mask wearing. Whatever the exact percentage is, I am concerned about the very real risk of the Delta variant infecting large portions of our workforce. Nationwide, there are news reports of cities having major work shortages because of Covid-19 infections. We do not want to be one of those cities — especially when there is a clear pathway to minimize the impact of Covid-19 in our workplace.


Therefore, I have decided to join with my fellow city managers in Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Williamsburg in announcing that we will provide a mandatory weekly Covid-19 testing program. Those employees who have been fully vaccinated as defined by the CDC and provide evidence to that effect will be exempted from testing requirements. Our planned start date is Oct. 1. This date has been chosen for two reasons:


1. The Oct. 1 date allows those employees who wish to be exempted from testing but are currently unvaccinated to have time to consider the option of vaccination we are offering. Should an unvaccinated employee now wish to become vaccinated, the 6 week advance notice provides sufficient time to become fully vaccinated with any of the currently available vaccines (Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer). As previously noted, we will be glad to assist employees with accessing the vaccine, and will provide paid time off (1 hour per dose) to do so. Moreover, it appears that full FDA authorization for at least the Pfizer vaccine will occur before that time, which may offer more comfort to those who are waiting for that decision.


2. With the recent decisions by many employers and public entities to require testing of vaccinations, as well as the increased Covid-19 cases themselves, there is a temporary shortage of tests available in the region. By Oct. 1, we believe the testing supply will be sufficient to accommodate those employees who choose to be tested weekly. We also have some details that we need to work out and will release to you as soon as we can. I ask that you try to hold your questions until those details are released as we will do our best to answer natural questions. As always, I remain available to respond to any questions not covered.


In the meantime, I wanted to provide as much clarity as possible about our pathway forward with the “testing or vaccination” program, so you have time to prepare.


I realize that these are not perfect measures that will completely stop the spread of Covid-19. There are breakthrough cases among those who have been vaccinated; but, fortunately, the vaccines protect well against severe illness and death. Someone might also test negative one day, and become sick the next. However, these are the best tools we have to slow the spread, and we should not avoid the use of the tools we have because they are not perfect.


I also realize that there will likely be some who applaud and others who criticize this decision. The amount of misinformation and rhetoric around vaccinations and Covid-19 have caused many people to lose sight of our mutual responsibility to one another in the midst of a true public health emergency. The question of whether to wear masks, vaccinate and even test has been framed as a question of individual rights almost exclusively instead of one of collective responsibility for our community or co-workers. Indeed, in this emotionally charged environment, it would have been easier to avoid making this decision and leave everyone to their own individual pathway. However, I do not believe in doing things because they are “easy”; I believe we must do what is “right."


As I assess what is “right” for the Hampton workforce, I understand that there is a real cost to inaction. Without taking more proactive steps to protect one another, we can reasonably expect more of our co-workers to become sick — potentially seriously ill. None of us want that. In addition, if more of our co-workers fall ill, others will have to step in to take on their responsibilities. That would lead to mandatory overtime or even temporary restrictions on vacation and personal leave. Even after placing that burden on our co-workers, a spread of the Delta variant throughout the workforce would greatly hinder our ability to respond to residents who depend on us for service.


One of the things I love most about the City of Hampton workforce is our team environment. We have always cared deeply about our co-workers, and this “testing or vaccination program” is yet another way to demonstrate our genuine commitment to one another. I truly hope you all will agree; and, I thank you in advance for your support of this effort.


— Mary


 

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