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Mandatory Weekly Testing for Unvaccinated County Employees to Start Aug. 29

By Tiffany DeMasters
August 21, 2021, 8:46 AM HST
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Unvaccinated county employees will be required to submit a weekly COVID-19 test starting Aug. 29.

The new policy is in compliance with Gov. David Igeʻs latest emergency proclamation requiring all state and county employees be vaccinated or test weekly for the virus.

“To clarify, the County of Hawaiʻi is not mandating vaccinations,” county spokesman Cyrus Johnasen stated to Big Island Now.

According to county officials, employees will be paid for the time it takes for them to get tested. Employees will be allowed to go to free testing sites during their work shifts. Failure to comply with the testing requirements may result in discipline, up to and including discharge, Johnasen stated.

Employees will be allowed to use sick days if they test positive.

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Approximately 66% of the countyʻs workforce is vaccinated. Employees are required to provide an attestation form to the county that confirms their vaccination status. Johnasen said some of those forms are still to be returned, which could increase that count.

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Police Chief Paul Ferreira and Fire Chief Kazuo Todd, both vaccinated, said there have been concerns among their personnel as to how this policy will impact the countyʻs emergency responders. Neither chief has heard of any planned resignations up to this point.

“Itʻs a pretty sudden implementation,” Todd said. “No matter where you go no matter what agency youʻre in, there are a lot of questions on how it works and how it will apply.”

Both departments already deal with employees unable to come in after being exposed or testing positive for COVID-19. Currently, Todd said he has 10 to 15 personnel out. Ferreira said he has at least four in quarantine.

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Todd plans to make things as easy as possible for his employees. The chief said the department is working with a partner to provide regular COVID testing to personnel at the fire stations.

“We wake up as a team and go to bed as a team. The viability of dealing with lines and testing is unlikely,” Todd said, adding that some of the 21 stations located around the island aren’t close enough to any testing site.

Todd said a good percentage of the department has been vaccinated but he does have personnel that arenʻt comfortable with it.

“While we donʻt have 100% vaccination, weʻre moving forward to make sure personnel is tested on a regular basis,” Todd said.

Todd recognizes both sides of the vaccination argument.

“I can understand the unease,” the chief said. “Unfortunately, because of the way this has played out in the media it (COVID-19 vaccine) has become a political issue, it has taken it out of the health realm.”

Ferreira said his understanding of Igeʻs mandate is that itʻs not requiring employees to be vaccinated, but requiring those individuals who choose not to get inoculated to submit to weekly testing in an effort to minimize further spread of the virus.

Ferreira said this measure enhances the other preventive measures that are in the proclamation such as the Safe Travels program, restrictions on gatherings, face coverings, social distancing, etc.

The police chief sent out a message to employees following Igeʻs proclamation. He stated that “we as first responders need to ensure the safety and wellness of not only ourselves, but of our co-workers, community members and more especially our families.”

“As First Responders, we have no choice but to get into situations where we are in close contact with individuals some of who we may not be aware is infected with the COVID 19 virus,” Ferreira stated. “As such, we need to ensure that we have taken necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others, such as wearing protective personal equipment (i.e. gloves, masks, etc.) and getting vaccinated.”

In his statement to employees, Ferreira said he was concerned about COVID-19 cases reported amongst HPD personnel.

“I understand that the decision of whether or not to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus is a personal choice; however, based on all of the medical evidence available I highly encourage all of our employees to get vaccinated against this virus,” Ferreira stated.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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