Albemarle County has no plans to require its local government or schools employees to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The county’s current policy is that it “strongly recommends” the immunization of those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s also not known exactly how many county government or school division employees are currently vaccinated, as officials have not tracked that information. In Charlottesville, 69% of local government employees were fully vaccinated as of last week.
“We’ve focused on tracking what are the community numbers for vaccinations and then pairing that with case incidence rates because it’s really about what is the community’s level of immunity at this point,” said Emily Kilroy, spokesperson for Albemarle.
The county surveyed employees about their COVID-19 vaccination intention in early 2021, and at that time, approximately 79% of employees said they intended to get vaccinated.
“We believe that the vast majority of employees who intended to get vaccinated followed through with that intention, and it is likely that additional employees have also obtained vaccination since it is more widely available now,” said Leanne Knox, the county’s safety and wellness program manager.
Phil Giaramita, spokesman for Albemarle County Public Schools, said the division only anecdotally knows how many employees have been vaccinated.
“We know from our employee vaccination clinics that the numbers have been strong,” he said. “We quickly approached 2,000 vaccinated employees within the first few days of our clinics last spring.”
The school division has nearly 2,500 employees, while the local government has more than 700 employees.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Wednesday that city employees there are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1, while Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that most state employees will be required to show proof of vaccination starting Sept. 1. Those who do not get vaccinated will be subject to regular testing for COVID.
Stoney estimated that about 40% to 50% of Richmond’s 3,600 employees have been vaccinated, but said that came from anecdotal reporting from department heads and not a formal survey.
Since January, more than 99% of COVID cases and 98% of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths have been among people who are not fully vaccinated, the Blue Ridge Health District said in an email.
The COVID-19 delta variant has made its way past vaccine defenses to cause what are known as breakthrough cases in vaccinated people. Those cases tend to be more mild or asymptomatic and seldom result in hospitalization or death, but studies show vaccinated people who are infected can easily spread the virus to others.
In the Northwest health region, which covers five health districts including the Charlottesville area, there have been approximately 33 breakthrough hospitalizations and four breakthrough deaths in people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state.
Albemarle has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, with 63% of the eligible population fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to the state dashboard.
About 57% of vaccine-eligible residents in the Blue Ridge Health District — which covers Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson counties and Charlottesville — are fully vaccinated.
According to Albemarle human resources reports, about 80% of county government employees and 93% of school division employees lived in the health district last year.
All county government employees were required to take the survey, and contractors and consultants who work at county facilities and those on the county health plan, such as courts employees, also took it. Some county fire rescue employees already had received a vaccine by the time the survey was sent out, Kilroy said.
The county then uploaded the names of employees who intended to get vaccinated to the Vaccine Administration Management System portal as directed by the health district, provided support to employees through the scheduling process and coordinated closed clinics with the Blue Ridge Health District for county and Charlottesville employees. Albemarle also allowed employees to be vaccinated while working.
Kilroy said the county has not worked to find out which or how many employees sought the vaccine outside of the county’s form because the county has not required employees to get the vaccine.
“Our office building is back open to the public, and so we’ve more focused on mitigation measures that have been put in place to keep everyone safe, recognizing that when you’re in an open environment, it’s not just about the staff that work here, it’s about everyone that we serve,” she said. “So really [we’ve] focused our efforts on ensuring that as many people who want the vaccine are able to get it.”
As the spread of the delta variant increases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that vaccinated Americans in areas with high transmission resume wearing masks while indoors.
In June, the county lifted the mask requirement for fully vaccinated visitors to the county office buildings at McIntire Road and Fifth Street Extended, but now will again require masks starting Monday.
The school division has said masks will be required indoors for all students, staff and visitors.
To find out more about COVID, local testing sites or vaccinations, call the health district’s hotline at (434) 972-6261 or email BRhealthdistrict@gmail.com.