It may be a case of “not with a bang but a whimper” when March 1 rolls around and the deadline hits for Arlington county-government employees to be vaccinated against COVID – or face termination.
County Manager Mark Schwartz said the number of employees who neither have gotten vaccinated, nor won an exemption, is down to a miniscule number (six, he said on Feb. 15).
Ninety-six percent of permanent government employees have met the vaccination mandate, with 135 more receiving accommodations required under federal law, Schwartz told County Board members, thanking those who have been vaccinated for “protecting their colleagues and the public they serve.”
Last year, Schwartz rolled out a policy that required government workers either to be vaccinated or subject to testing. Most figured at the time that policy would morph into a get-tested-or-else mandate, which it did.
(The policy does not, at present, require employees to have had so-called booster shots, which seem to be a harder sell with the community than the initial vaccination regimen had been.)
Critics of mandatory vaccinations say the policies do not account for the benefits of natural immunity, and contend that vaccinations proved somewhat ineffective against the highly transmissible but largely benign omicron variant of COVID that took hold in the U.S. late last year.
Schwartz told County Board members that because of dwindling numbers of residents coming to government-run vaccination sites, “we are thinking of reducing our footprint” at the Walter Reed Community Center vaccination site. He said officials also are working to find a way to put the gym at Arlington Mill Community Center, which has been used for vaccinations the better part of a year, back into public use this spring.
The county government has provided 197,000 vaccinations since they became available over a year ago, Schwartz told board members.
When it comes to the policy of masking in county-government buildings, “we’ve not changed it, we’re not planning on changing it,” Schwartz said.
The actual policy is a little hard to pin down; Schwartz summarized it as “everyone should wear a mask [in local-government facilities] when they cannot maintain 6 feet of distance from others.” County libraries post a policy that all those inside its facilities must wear masks.