Ponder this scenario.
There are two identical twins. Call them Bill and Phil. They’re 35 years old and each is in robust health. One works in an office job for the Arlington County government, the other at a comparable job for a private company a few blocks away.
Given all the similarities, you might think Bill and Phil would become eligible for COVID vaccinations at the same time. But you’d be wrong. In fact, Bill (the county-government employee) will be able to get his inoculations ahead of Phil (the private-sector employee).
Why? Because Arlington government leaders have decided that the entire county-government workforce qualifies as essential for “continuity of government,” which bumps them ahead of several other groups as well as the general public in vaccination priority.
After some prodding, county-government officials last week confirmed to the Sun Gazette that its entire workforce will be part of Virginia’s “Group 1b,” placing them ahead of approximately 50 percent of the state’s population.
Putting them there is “in full compliance with state guidelines,” said Mary Curtius, a spokesman for the county government who confirmed the government’s approach.
In compliance, perhaps. But the right thing to do, allowing county employees to jump the line? Some aren’t really on board with that.
“The hubris of our county leaders is astonishing when it comes to vaccine rollout,” said Matthew Hurtt, communications director of the Arlington County Republican Committee. “This is another disappointingly tone-deaf move.”
Unless those government employees qualify for an even earlier place in the vaccination conga line due to their age, health or front-line occupation, they will be placed at the tail end of Group 1b, becoming eligible “shortly before vaccination appointments are open to the general public,” Curtius said.
The five County Board members, too, have been made eligible for Group 1b status (Libby Garvey is over age 65 and already qualifies).
Currently able to be vaccinated in Arlington are those over 75 years of age and the following categories:
• Front-line health-care workers (who were the first eligible, starting in December).
• Police, fire and other specific public-safety personnel.
• Those working in and incarcerated in correctional facilities.
• Those working in and living in homeless shelters.
• Teachers and some staff in public and private elementary and secondary schools.
• Child-care workers.
Those in Group 1b, who are not yet eligible but currently are able to pre-register with the county government, include:
• All residents age 65 to 74.
• Those ages 18 to 64 with specific underlying health conditions.
• Grocery-store personnel and others in the food pipeline, including agricultural workers.
• Public-transit employees.
• Mail carriers.
• The aforementioned county-government workers.
After that will come Group 1c, which is focused on non-front-line employees in specific occupational groups, including energy, transportation, higher education, information technology, engineering, media, legal and housing construction. The remainder of the general public will then follow.
As of last week, about 13 percent of Virginia’s population has received the first dose of a vaccine, although fewer than half of those had been fully vaccinated, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Arlington’s figures were roughly on par with the statewide numbers.
News of the jump-the-line decision by the county government comes as the county, state and nation continued to grapple with a somewhat chaotic vaccine rollout and, in this day and age, almost inevitable political finger-pointing.
The most recent hiccup? Inclement weather, which played havoc with the transportation of vaccine across the country.
Arlington officials announced Feb. 19 that they were temporarily pausing new vaccination appointments until they could be sure there would be enough vaccine available.
As of last week, Arlington’s COVID death count – with the virus as either a direct or indirect cause of demise – stood at 212, or about 0.09 percent of the county population.
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While the registration system for COVID vaccinations was shifted on Feb. 16 to a state-run effort, Arlington continues to operate a public-information line to answer COVID-related questions. The hotline – (703) 228-7999 – is staffed weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.