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Cape Cod county government mandating vaccines

John Phelan bit.ly/2rd445K

Barnstable County Commissioners approved a new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for county government staff on Wednesday.

Staff will be required to supply proof of vaccination, or provide a negative COVID test every Monday morning. Those failing to do so face five days of unpaid leave.

Commissioners have been pushing for a vaccine mandate since the summer, but waited until Wednesday to get a proposed policy from the administrative staff.

Staff must be in compliance by November 30th.

Staffers will be considered to have abandoned their post if, after the five days, they don’t return with a negative test or a vaccination.

Wednesday's vote was not unanimous, although the discussion was around language rather than the merits of requiring vaccination.

Commission chairman Ron Bergstrom pushed for a stricter mandate, one that simply required the vaccine. He said the county shouldn’t be in a position of deciding the validity of vaccine exemptions.

“The catholic church, with a 100-million members, and a storefront church down the block with 40 members — to the government, they are exactly the same," Bergstrom said. "We don’t make a judgement over whether a person's religion is legitimate or not.”

But commissioner Sheila Lyons argued that the weekly test would ensure that staff would be safe from a COVID-19 outbreak, while honoring any personal, health or religious reasons for not getting the shot.

"This policy is sound," Lyons said. “Within our capacity and our ability to ensure the safety and well being of our employees, this hits the mark. It does incorporate fairness, maybe more so than other policies."

Bergstrom eventually supported the policy.

Commissioner Mark Forest was the lone "nay" vote in the 2 - 1 decision.

Forest said that the county's policy should be uniform with similar state and federal mandates. The County policy doesn't specifically mention exemptions, the way state and federal policies do. The county policy allows for any exemption — personal or health — given the staffer gets tested, but the exemption is not specifically written in the policy.

Forest noted that exemptions to vaccination mandates are allowed under the Americans with Disability Act for legitimate health or disability reasons. A religious exemption is protected under the Civil Rights Act.

He says it's common for a vaccination mandate policy to notify employees that these legal rights exist and how they are protected.

There are 238 county employees that will be subject to the new policy.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.