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Baltimore County to require proof of vaccination or mandatory COVID testing for government employees

Baltimore County will require government employees to prove they are vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced Thursday.

The state’s third-largest jurisdiction will require its 9,000 employees to prove by Oct. 15 that they’ve received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Employees will have to prove they’ve received all vaccination doses by Nov. 15.

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The county will make exceptions for some individuals who request a waiver from vaccinations for medical or religious reasons. The waiver request also is due Oct. 15, and those employees still will be required to undergo weekly testing in order to work.

Employees can begin submitting their verification Oct. 1, according to county administrative officer Stacy Rodgers. The county says around 61% of employees already are vaccinated.

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“The rapid and ongoing spread of the delta variant demands that we take additional action to stop the spread,” Olszewski said.

County health officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said that if booster shots become widely available, proof of those shots also will be required.

The announcement comes after an “alarming spike” in COVID-related hospitalizations since late July, when new coronavirus transmissions put the county within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “substantial” level of virus spread, according to the county.

Olszewski, a Democrat, declared a county state of emergency Aug. 24. The county has stopped short of mandating mask-wearing in all businesses, but those who are unvaccinated must wear face coverings in government buildings.

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“The administration is engaging with the county’s labor representatives as policy details are finalized,” the county wrote in a press release.

Negotiations began shortly after the announcement, said David Rose, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4. Union leaders say they were not consulted or notified of the order before Thursday.

“It’s easy to say we have vaccination and testing policy,” Rose said. “The very difficult thing to do is to write a vaccination and testing policy.”

A significant number of county police officers, Rose expects, will not get vaccinated.

That’s for “personal reasons, whether that be personal safety or they just don’t think they need it because they’re young and healthy and don’t think they’re high risk,” Rose said. “I support everybody’s personal decisions to whether they want to get vaccinated or not — I will not tell anyone whether they should get vaccinated.”

John Sibiga Jr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters local IAFF 1311, said the order leaves “more questions than answers.”

Some of those questions include what coronavirus tests will be accepted, whether taking time to get a vaccine is compensable and who will be responsible for enforcing the order.

“We believe our members should be able to make their informed decisions,” Sibiga said. “We absolutely encouraged members to get vaccinated; but I am not a fan of forcing every single member to be vaccinated.”

Baltimore County Schools previously announced it will require vaccinations or testing for school employees. At that time, Rose said he submitted a demand to bargain letter to the county, given the question of whether school resource officers would be subject to the order.

“I would rather have had the agreement before the announcement,” he said.

Rose received a draft of the vaccination policy shortly before the county disclosed plans publicly.

John Ripley, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees Local 4883, declined to comment beyond confirming negotiations had begun.

The county follows Baltimore City, which mandated employees in its 14,000-strong workforce be vaccinated or face regular testing in late August. In early August, Anne Arundel County announced it will require unvaccinated employees to test negatively for the virus each week starting Sept. 13.

And the announcement comes a little more than week after Maryland’s vaccination mandate went into effect for state employees who care for people in prisons, hospitals, veterans centers and juvenile facilities.

Olszewski also announced he will sign an executive order to continue supporting expanded outdoor dining for restaurants and bars. The original order authorizing the expansions was set to expire this week.

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