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Our Town with William Kelly: No mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for Town employees – at least for now

Town Manager Kirk Blouin said this week the town is looking into whether it can legally require town employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested for infection on a weekly basis.

As yet, there is no clear answer, Blouin told the Town Council Tuesday.

He noted that the federal and state governments are at odds over the issue.

On Sept. 9, President Biden announced that all employers of more than 100 workers will be required to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations or weekly testing. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week pushed back, threatening to fine any state or local government agency $5,000 for every employee that they require to be vaccinated.

“I do expect the question of mandatory vaccinations will end up in the courts,” Blouin said. “We are closely watching. It’s an evolving situation. In the meantime, we are encouraging employees to get vaccinated.”

Blouin said the town leadership also is looking into the legality of requiring weekly testing of employees for Covid-19.

Councilman Lew Crampton asked Blouin what percentage of the town’s 339 employees have been vaccinated.

“We are gathering those numbers,” Blouin responded. “We believe it’s within our legal right to ask who has been vaccinated and who has not.”

Blouin said the vaccination rate among the employees probably mirrors that of society in general and would likely be less than 70 percent.

He has said some town employees have resisted getting the vaccine because they don’t trust it, have already survived a Covid-19 infection or are younger and may feel they don’t need it to stay healthy.

Area hospitals continue to be swamped with Covid-19 patients, most of whom have not been vaccinated. But with infection rates falling, better days are within sight, Fire-Rescue Chief Darrel Donatto told the council.

As of Sept. 10, the Covid-19 positivity rate for Palm Beach County was 12.6 percent for the previous seven days, down from 13.9 percent the week before. Statewide, the rate was higher – 15.2 percent, compared to 16.8 percent the week before, according to the Florida Department of Health.

In June, the rate had fallen below 5 percent, but the Delta variant has since caused a spike of new cases among those who didn’t get vaccinated.

Hospitalizations and daily deaths remain high. But those statistics generally lag behind the positivity rate by about three weeks, so they should start falling in October, Donatto said.

The positivity rate should also be back down to around 5 percent in October, he said.

“But the bad thing right now is, at this very moment, we have a lot of very sick people in the hospital and a lot of people dying,” Donatto said. The 14 area hospitals “are still over capacity on ICU beds. There are no ICU beds available. Deaths per day are higher than we have seen in a long time.”

The Delta variant is extremely dangerous because it spreads much more quickly than earlier variants and carries a higher viral load, he said.

“The single best protection is being vaccinated,” Donatto said. “That’s the best way to keep people from dying.”

In Palm Beach, authorities say the vaccination rate is around 100 percent. Countywide, nearly 57 percent were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 4. Statewide, about 67 percent of the population of 20.9 million have had at least one dose, and 55 percent are fully vaccinated.