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Ige signs order requiring county, state employees to get vaccinated or face regular testing

State and county employees in Hawaii will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or regularly be tested for the novel coronavirus, Gov. David Ige announced Thursday during a news conference.

Under a new emergency proclamation signed by the governor, all state and county employees must provide their vaccination status to their department, office or agency by Aug. 16, Ige said. Those who do not will be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests.

If a free testing site is not used, Ige said employees must pay for any testing costs.

Those who do not comply with Ige’s order could be subject to termination.

The announcement comes as the state grapples with an unprecedented surge of cases driven largely by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, which Ige said creates a higher risk of infection, especially for those who are unvaccinated.

The state Department of Health on Thursday reported a record-breaking 655 new COVID-19 cases statewide, the highest single-day tally since the pandemic began in early 2020.

According to the DOH, the state now has a 6.9% test positivity rate and averaged 436 new cases per day between July 28 and Aug. 3. Hawaii County has an 8.3% positivity rate.

“Based on the current conditions, I must take action to protect public health and avert unmanageable strains on our health care all across the state.”

“This alarming rise in cases will not end on its own,” state Health Director Dr. Libby Char said during the news conference. “Our hospitals are concerned about their capacity and especially their staffing. The return to normalcy we were all fighting so hard to obtain is now in jeopardy.

“The good news is that we know what works,” she continued. “We have the tools that we need to slow the spread of COVID. This will require a whole-of-government response and participation by the entire community. All of us need to do our part. … We will get through this, and we will do it together if we all do our part.”

Ige said he and the state’s four mayors agree the new vaccination and testing policy for state and county employees will help protect the health, safety and welfare of Hawaii’s residents.

“It was our sincere hope that we wouldn’t have to come down to this to get people to do the right thing for the community,” Mayor Mitch Roth said during the news conference.

“Enough is enough already,” he said. “Let’s get back to the things we love most by taking the vaccine, limiting gatherings and wearing our masks. The time is now.”

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said the governor’s proposal is something “we can agree to and support.”

“It gives our workers choices to either opt-in to vaccination, which I strongly suggest, or opt-in to testing,” he said. “There are many moving parts to make sure we can operationalize this task, and so we’ll be answering questions as we figure things out rather quickly. But I will tell you this — that we intend to make this as easy and as convenient as possible, because bar none, what works is vaccination, early detection through testing, and wearing masks. So we are all going to be doing our part to be able to move forward towards normalcy.”

Ige said the vaccine protocol will apply to county and state executive branch employees, the University of Hawaii and state Department of Education. He does not have authority over the legislative or judicial branches of state government.

According to Ige, the state has 50,000 to 55,000 employees. The vaccination requirement would apply to civil service, temporary and part-time employees.

Following the governor’s announcement, six public unions — Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association, State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and United Public Workers released a joint statement.

“We strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as part of our united effort to beat the pandemic and protect our community’s health,” the unions said. “The health and well-being of our public employees, who have been essential during this pandemic, remain our top priority while we continue to keep vital government operations running every day.

“The public-sector unions reached out to the governor’s office earlier this week to initiate discussions about the vaccine mandate, but our request was denied,” the groups continued. “We will continue to fight for open discussions about these important decisions that affect public employees, our government operations, and our community.”

According to the unions, the emergency proclamation will impact members’ working conditions, and the state and counties must bargain those impacts with the appropriate collective bargaining units.

Details about how tests will be administered, how results will be kept confidential, and how the state will fund the mandate also will need to be negotiated with the state, the unions said.

The state and counties join a growing cohort of organizations and businesses requiring employees to be vaccinated or undergo testing.

Earlier this week, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii announced support for mandatory vaccinations of health care workers across the state — once full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug administration is granted and as long as exemptions are accommodated.

Hawaii State Judiciary also will require all employees be fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald said in a statement issued Thursday.

Additionally, the state House of Representatives will require all House members and staff to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 with any vaccine currently authorized for emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to Ige, the emergency proclamation continues the statewide mask mandate for indoor public settings. The governor also encouraged people to wear masks outdoors if an individual is in a large group or unable to maintain physical distancing.

The proclamation also continues the state’s mandatory travel quarantine and Safe Travels program, including the pre-travel testing requirement and vaccine exceptions to quarantine already in place.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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