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San Benito County mulls vaccine requirement for employees

Majority of board directs staff to develop policy

—Photo by Erik Chalhoub

San Benito County employees could be required to receive the Covid-19 vaccine or get tested twice a week.

The board of supervisors voted 3-1 to direct staff to draft a policy that is scheduled to be considered on Aug. 24. Supervisor Peter Hernandez dissented.

Also on the table is a $200 incentive for people who show proof that they received their final dose of the vaccine on Aug. 10 or later. Such checks would be funded by $500,000 of federal American Rescue Plan money that the county received earlier this year.

In recent weeks, various businesses and government entities nationwide have announced vaccine requirements for their employees as the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 has caused case spikes throughout the country.

According to county health data, there are currently 96 active Covid-19 cases in San Benito County, a number that has steadily increased since a low of five on June 28.

Two people are currently hospitalized, and on Aug. 1 the county reported its first death in four months.

According to San Benito County Interim Public Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci, nearly 61 percent of eligible county residents are fully vaccinated, with 71 percent having received the first dose.

Vaccinations had plateaued through most of July, but the numbers increased by three percent as of the past week, he noted.

“That is a direct result that people are aware that the vaccinations are very effective and they’re safe,” Ghilarducci said. “They really are the best way of keeping you out of the hospital and keeping you alive.”

But with nearly 30 percent of the eligible population not vaccinated, health officials said more needs to be done to encourage those to get the shot.

Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki said he was “extremely frustrated” with people who refuse to get vaccinated based on false information.

“We’re not fighting a virus anymore at this point,” he said. “We’re fighting ignorance. We’re fighting selfishness. We have to do something about it.”

He asked the “naysayers, such as Supervisor Hernandez,” for solutions to ending the pandemic.

“What is your solution to get out of the pandemic to keep our community safe, other than complaining?” he asked.

Hernandez said he supports the public having a choice when it comes to being vaccinated, and said the supervisors need to build trust with the community by being transparent on the possible side effects of the vaccine.

He said a vaccination requirement could actually have the opposite effect.

“The more we push people to do what we say, we’re by default telling them your voice means nothing,” Hernandez said. “If I was an employee of this county, I would probably quit.”

The supervisors are expected to consider a vaccination policy for the nearly 600 county employees on Aug. 24 as well as the incentive program. If approved, its implementation would take at least a couple of weeks to work out the logistics, according to County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa.