Dallas County Commissioners Tuesday debated asking workers for their COVID-19 vaccine status or test results as county government faces the same challenge that private businesses are facing with keeping workers on the job.
County tax offices are closed for at least a week because 50 employees have tested positive or must quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.
Other county workers returned to remote work where possible.
“Everyone that does not need to be in the office, we need to put you at home. We need to do that. That already needs to be done. If it hasn’t, we need to do that today,” County Commissioner J.J. Koch said.
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Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said complaints that employees accomplish only 80% of their work at home are not valid.
“If you get COVID spreading through your area, then they’re not going to be 80% as effective. They’re going to be 0% effective,” Jenkins said.
Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang said the past day’s emergency room visits broke previous records.
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“Everything we can do to continue to promote vaccinations is one of the keys to success,” Dr. Huang said.
But Tuesday Commissioners also heard that only about 2,000 of their 6,500 employees are verified to be fully vaccinated.
Commissioner John Wiley Price said he could not understand how county officials could continue to talk about getting people vaccinated without a rigorous testing requirement for the county’s employees.
“What is the bottom line,” Price said. “We are here from a fiduciary responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of our workforce and our citizenry.”
As the potential grows for many more infected workers, commissioners debated whether vaccination status or COVID-19 test results should be reported by employees and whether sick time pay should be withheld from those who refuse shots.
“If you're getting a benefit out of it, right, I'm going to pay you for six days of quarantine, or isolation, I do want to know if you are vaccinated or not,” Commissioner Elba Garcia said.
Jenkins said employees who decline shots might go to work sick to get their paychecks. He supported an incentive plan to motivate worker vaccination.
“It’s that we’re helping out all their coworkers by incentivizing people who have COVID to stay the heck out of our buildings. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said breakthrough cases of the Omicron variant are surging largely because only 15% of the general population has received the recommended COVID-19 booster shot.
“If you’re getting in close quarters indoors with someone who has COVID, it’s very likely you’ll get COVID,” Jenkins said.
Price called for reopening mass vaccination sites in Southern Dallas that had been available in the past when demand for shots was higher.
Instead of up to 12,000 shots a day at the peak, around 1,200 a week are being administered now in Dallas County.
Officials hope the new wave of illness will persuade more people to get vaccinated.
Dr. Huang said Fair Park will soon resume mass vaccination and testing. Shots are also available at pharmacies and grocery stores.
Dallas County Administrator Daryl Martin said he will quickly prepare an employee policy for commissioners to consider.
“I think what we need to do is come back with a menu for you. We need to look at testing, vaccination, incentivizing plan and that sick leave policy. Put it all in one policy and bring it back to this court,” Martin said.
A special meeting could be held within days to put the policy in place as COVID-19 surges.
Jenkins said experts forecast 10,000 COVID-19 cases a day in Dallas County within weeks compared to recent records of around 6,500 a day.