Starting Sept. 8, thousands of state employees who work for state cabinet agencies – think corrections officers, highway planners, and environmental regulators – must show they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19, or be tested weekly. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the new requirements as part of an Executive Order signed July 29. The State Employees Association of North Carolina supported the protocols.
The Human Resources policy covers cabinet agency employees who work in offices or meet the public. Agencies have the option of requiring masks indoors for all workers or just for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Cooper announced the vaccination-or-testing requirement as COVID-19 cases caused by the coronavirus Delta variant were climbing. Since the announcement, new COVID cases and hospitalizations have reached levels not seen since January. Data from the New York Times shows that North Carolina hospital ICUs are full or nearly full.
Cooper urged other state agencies to adopt similar measures. Most of them have not. Some agencies do not require anyone to wear masks indoors.
Republicans who run the state Department of Labor, the state Department of Public Instruction, the Department of Insurance, and the state Treasurer’s Office, are not requiring vaccinations or testing.
Two of the three Democratic state agency leaders, Attorney General Josh Stein and State Auditor Beth Wood, are requiring proof of vaccination or regular testing.
The exception among Democrats is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who has not implemented a vaccination or testing requirement. Most employees are teleworking, according to an agency spokesman.
On any given day about 75% of agency employees are working remotely, and anonymous surveys have found that 80% to 90% are vaccinated, agency spokesman Tim Crowley said in an email.
“The Secretary applauds Gov. Cooper for focusing on vaccinations and has communicated to the staff on multiple occasions about the important of vaccinations, and also the importance of wearing a mask,” Crowley wrote. “The agency plans to verify the vaccination status of its employees in the coming weeks.”
State Treasurer Dale Folwell said in an interview last week that he will not require proof of vaccination. Folwell, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 last year, said agency employees are “highly encouraged to get vaccinated and wear masks, especially in common areas.”
The Department of Insurance, run by Commissioner Mike Causey, has no plan for vaccination or testing requirements, spokesman Barry Smith said in an email. The department plan encourages but does not require masks or face coverings. Workstations were placed at least 8 feet apart with 5 1/2-foot partitions.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt is not requiring vaccinations, Department of Public Instruction spokeswoman Blair Rhoades said in an email.
“She has instead allowed for employees to voluntarily disclose this information using an attestation form,” Rhoades wrote. “Employees who voluntarily share their vaccination status aren’t required to wear masks inside the building but any employee is, of course, free to wear one if they choose.”
Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson considers vaccination “a personal health matter” and does not intend to require it, department spokeswoman Jennifer Haigwood said in an email.
Dobson believes in the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and encourages vaccination for employees, she wrote. “All NCDOL employees are required to wear a face covering in common areas and in any space with more than one person,” Haigwood said in the email.
State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler had not decided as of Friday whether to require vaccination or routine testing for employees, but he has been a strong advocate for people getting vaccinated, department spokeswoman Andrea Ashby said in an email.
A spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson did not respond to an email Friday or telephone call Monday. During a speech this summer, Robinson said politicians who encourage people to be vaccinated should be voted out of office.