by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Sanibel City Council had a lengthy discussion last week on the status of COVID vaccinations among the city’s employees. Currently, 78 employees are fully vaccinated; six have had one dose; 48 are not vaccinated; and 38 had not responded to the voluntary survey.
The city is experiencing staffing issues from impacts of COVID that is having a trickle down effect on the city’s ability to provide timely services to tax payers and slowed major projects. While many Florida counties have instituted a vaccination mandate for employees, Sanibel is not ready to impose one yet.
Council decided last week to continue encouraging vaccinations among city staff with a $500 incentive that ends Oct. 30, start tracking vaccinations and require verification. It was also decided that unvaccinated employees must wear N95-type masks when on city property.
“Our number one concern is protecting people and the health and safety of our employees and our residents,” said Councilman John Henshaw, a former head of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He introduced the actions unanimously approved by council.
Lee County has a lower vaccination rate compared to surrounding counties. City Manager Judie Zimomra said the 54 percent vaccination rate among city staff is not a reflection of the island community, but of the county and region.
“Our workforce comes from the area not from the island, and (the numbers) are almost to the percentage of what we’re seeing in the region,” said Zimomra. “They may be out of range for what we would like to see as a policy in our workforce, but they are consistent with the vaccination rate for this region.”
Henshaw suggested weekly testing for unvaccinated employees and requiring new hires to be fully vaccinated. But those were tabled mostly due to council not being ready to act on them. Weekly testing could be an administrative challenge and OSHA is expected soon to release COVID requirements likely to change current mandates.
Henshaw said the actions taken by council were a step forward and it would not be the council’s last discussion on the matter. “I do intend to bring it up again in our next meeting to consider where we are in the nation, in our understanding of whether requirements can be made, and if the testing can be done,” said Henshaw.
Council agreed to hold special meetings as needed.