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Local

New Hanover County stops shy of a mandate, but will require new employees to get vaccinated

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U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jimmie D. Pike
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Laughlin Air Force Base

New Hanover County set a new Covi-19 vaccination policy on Monday to coincide with the return of mandatory masking within county buildings.

The County’s new policy is not a vaccine mandate; instead, according to county officials, it’s intended to get a clear accounting of which employees are vaccinated and which are not.

Employees will need to verify their vaccination status, and those who are not vaccinated will need to submit to covid testing once a week, starting in September.

Perhaps the biggest shift is the requirement that all new hires be vaccinated against coronavirus — the turnover rate at the county is 12%, so it could make a significant dent. County Manager Chris Coudriet said the goal is to get 75% of the county staff vaccinated across all departments in order to get “organizational immunity.”

“If we have organizational immunity, we can be certain that irrespective of what comes our way- daily service obligations, or unfortunately, a hurricane threat- that we'll have the depth and the talent to continue to run the county government. And so that's how we came to the 75% threshold or metric," Coudriet says.

The policy came a week after the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board recommended mandatory vaccinations for all county staff.

While the administration didn’t go as far as the board recommended, Coudriet said he’s hopeful the county will get to its goal, especially with covid cases and hospitalizations more than quadrupling in the last two weeks.

He added that the decision came after a week of meetings, and is the "most difficult" policy position he's been a part of professionally. While the county commissioners were informed of the decision and policy, they were not directly involved in setting it.

“We also haven't made a decision to keep any one person from doing what they think is right for themselves," Coudriet said. "So I do believe, and I know that our organization will achieve 75%. But it's going to be because our team buys into this is the right thing to do.”

He added that the county’s 2,000 employees likely have a similar vaccination rate as the greater community, which is currently sitting at 53%. But he said he wouldn't be surprised if it was a bit higher or a bit lower than that.