City Approves Employee Vaccine Initiative, Considers Mandate

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Locals should note that this is not a public incentive but rather an effort to encourage vaccinations within the City’s administration.

On Monday, August 2, the City of Winter Park launched an initiative for City employees to receive $150 and an additional paid day off work in exchange for proof of vaccination, a program that will expire on September 15. According to City of Winter Park Communication Director Clarissa Howard, City employees will be required to show proof of full vaccination to the City of Winter Park HR Division by September 15 to receive these benefits.

The initiative, however, was quickly followed by a new policy, which was recently approved at Wednesday’s commission meeting. Effective September 20, City employees who choose to forgo vaccinations will be required to submit negative COVID-19 test results each week or take unpaid leave until able to show negative results.

The Winter Park Fire Department will administer drive-thru rapid COVID-19 tests on a weekly basis, and the City will make KN95 masks available to any employee upon request. According to Knight, the City will make exemptions for health or religious purposes, and city employees may seek alternative forms of individual testing at their own expense.

“COVID safety measures for employees were discussed [at the meeting], including the voluntary employee vaccination incentive program and a possible opportunity for employees and the public to receive a vaccine at City Hall,” said City Manager Randy Knight. “The city commission and city management team are taking this pandemic seriously, and key dates were set to reach the goal of keeping our employees, coworkers, and the public safe.”

After the results initial incentive did not meet the City’s expectations, commissioners discussed the possibility of mandatory vaccinations. According to Knight, commissioners will revisit the new policy to discuss next steps for the City if 65% of employees fail to show proof of vaccination at the end of the six-week initiative in September. To date, approximately 180 employees out of 500 have provided proof of full vaccination.

“We are working on the details of the mandatory testing plan,” Knight said. “We estimate this could cost $20-$25k per month.”

During the meeting, City Commissioner Marty Sullivan, who leans in favor of the vaccine mandate, stated that the vaccine requirement is in the City’s back pocket. “I want to do what is the best thing cooperatively with City staff to protect our employees because of the health costs, and there [are] severe costs through our health plan if anyone ends up in the hospital with COVID,” Sullivan said.

Vice Mayor Carolyn Cooper accompanied Sullivan in his stance on a vaccine mandate, referring to the number of unvaccinated City employees as a “public safety issue.” Mayor Phil Anderson acknowledged the general public uncertainty toward vaccinations, stating that there are “a lot of people that have deeply held concerns, and yet this affects a lot of people around them.”

“We owe our health care system… some kind of response and contribution to flatten the curve,” Mayor Anderson said.

See the City’s agenda for all recommended safety measures, or visit the Florida Health Department in Orange County’s website for more information.

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