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Clark County employees may face decision: Vaccine or test?

Updated August 3, 2021 - 6:43 pm

Clark County employees, including workers at the county-owned University Medical Center, may be required to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing if not vaccinated beginning Sept. 1.

The proposal was embraced Tuesday by county lawmakers who plan to bring it back for possible adoption in two weeks. Until then, officials will work to iron out details including whether the requirement should apply to part-time employees, too.

“We’ve got to lead by example,” Commissioner Justin Jones said.

The move would follow the state’s plan announced last week requiring 27,000-plus state workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. The federal government, California, New York City and an increasing number of private companies are among those who have enacted similar policies.

The county is proposing allowing employees to share their vaccination status voluntarily, according to County Manager Yolanda King, or submit proof of a negative coronavirus test before being allowed to return to work.

It is an attempt to boost vaccination rates among the county’s 10,000-plus workforce, among other incentives, yet officials do not know what percentage of employees have been inoculated.

At county-run University Medical Center, where the vaccine-or-test requirement would also apply, 73 percent of hospital staff have been immunized, CEO Mason VanHouweling said.

Legal concerns

Commissioner Michael Naft said he favored the plan over another one researched by county officials, and fraught with legal concern, that would mandate vaccines for the county’s workforce. Under the plan backed by the commission, he noted, employees would have an option to be tested to prove they are not carrying a transmissible disease.

“I think it has quickly become the standard of employers in our community,” Naft said.

Officials said that the private sector — particularly companies that would come to Las Vegas for trade shows and conventions — have been asking how county employees are protecting themselves because they will be interacting with private workers.

“This is the right action at the right time in order to make sure that we stay open,” Jones said.

Officials will be reviewing the plan over the next two weeks including the costs and availability of testing, whether to limit test frequency for part-time workers, and the threshold for ending the requirement, according to King.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom raised the issue of collective bargaining, saying he wants to be sure that employee unions are involved in discussions.

Proposed requirements would not apply to the largely county-funded Metropolitan Police Department.

Cash-for-vaccine plan

A proposal to give $100 to every person who gets vaccinated in Clark County was delayed Tuesday with too many questions remaining unanswered.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom agreed to continue research into his plan providing a cash incentive for people to get their vaccinations.

Among the unknowns: Would the reward apply to a first or second dose? Would anyone purposely delay getting a shot to qualify for the money? What about others who have already been vaccinated?

Segerblom suggested bankrolling the incentive with part of $10 million in American Rescue Plan funding he proposed to set aside to promote vaccines and vaccinations in Southern Nevada.

Fellow lawmakers, who supported the objective to increase the countywide vaccination rate, questioned whether the pot of money was too much given their long list of other priorities.

About 49 percent of people in Clark County 12 and older — those eligible for a vaccine — have been fully inoculated, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. More than 61 percent have received at least a first dose.

Other locales in the U.S. have offered cash incentives to try to boost vaccination numbers, and President Joe Biden urged states to offer $100 incentives to drive people to get inoculated.

“I thought it was the craziest idea in the world,” Segerblom said. “Then the president said, ‘oh, it’s a great idea,’ so what the hell?”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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