At least 82% of Albemarle County local government employees and nearly 90% of school division employees have submitted proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, according to the county.
Albemarle County announced a vaccination requirement in mid-August, and the School Board quickly signed off on that plan as well. Previously, the county was not tracking employee vaccinations.
The policies, effective this week, come as the county and the Blue Ridge Health District are seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations due to the delta variant of the coronavirus.
“On average, an individual previously who had tested positive with COVID may spread it to one to two people,” said Ryan McKay, the health district’s COVID-19 incident commander, at the Albemarle Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday. “Now we’re seeing that with delta, individuals are spreading it to upwards of five, six or seven people, and so that average has obviously increased case counts and impact on the community.”
So far this month, the district, which includes Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson counties and Charlottesville, has reported 1,675 new cases, 42 new hospitalizations and seven fatalities.
About 59.3% of the health district is fully vaccinated, including 65.6% of Albemarle residents, according to the health district’s dashboard.
According to the county, out of 871 employees and contract workers, 713 people are fully vaccinated, 138 are not fully vaccinated and 21 have not yet responded.
Local government employees who report up to the county executive are under the vaccination requirement, while the Board of Supervisors as well as other specific departments like the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office are not included.
Albemarle is working with GENETWORx, a lab based in the Richmond area, for testing its employees. Local government employees will need to be tested weekly starting Monday.
“We hope that the number of vaccinated employees will continue to increase naturally over time,” County Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said. “We continue to support employees who are interested in learning more or getting the vaccine.”
She said certain employees will get to use at home test kits depending on their schedules.
The county is paying $70,000 a month for weekly testing using American Rescue Plan Act money. Kilroy said the contract is through June 15, 2022 and it can be canceled ahead of that date.
Nearly 90% of school division employees are fully vaccinated, according to division data. Among teachers, 94.9% are fully vaccinated. Another 2% of employees have received the first dose of the vaccine.
As of Tuesday, 6.3% of schools employees, including 2.1% of teachers, said they had not yet received a vaccine dose. Those who didn’t answer or are partially vaccinated will need to submit a weekly negative COVID test.
The division is planning to provide COVID testing opportunities at four sites, also through GENETWORx.
Clare Keiser, the division’s assistant superintendent for organizational development and human resource leadership, said the lab will do a polymerase chain reaction swab test.
She added that the division is talking with the lab about a saliva test option, which some employees have asked about. The COVID tests will also be available to vaccinated employees who need to get tested.
As of last week, Keiser said the division was looking at having four testing sites: two in the northern feeder pattern, one in the Western and one in the southern feeder pattern.
“These locations will be available on various days of the week and also through varying schedules that will allow our employees to go to a location at a time that is most convenient to them,” she said.
Division staff didn’t survey substitute teachers or other temporary employees, though they are working to gather information from those individuals about their vaccination status.
Willie Mae Gray, a BRHD community health worker in Albemarle, told the Board of Supervisors that she has been working to get county residents vaccinated.
“We’re finding that we’re getting a lot of hesitancy from some folks, but at the same time, people are welcoming us being there and giving them that information that they need to make that informed decision for themselves and their family members,” she said.
Gray said they often get names and phone numbers of those who decline to get vaccinated and follow back up with them.
“A lot of times when we follow back up with them and give them a phone call and just ask, ‘Have you changed your mind? Is it something you think you want to do to protect yourself and your family?’ she said. “Surprisingly, a lot will tell us ‘Yes.’”
Supervisor Liz Palmer asked if the health district was tracking the number of vaccinated Albemarle residents who are hospitalized, and said she knew two vaccinated people in intensive care.
“If that’s a number that VDH is tracking, it’s one that we can’t share publicly,” McKay said. “A lot of our data, particularly related to vaccination status and cases among those who are fully vaccinated, is reported at the regional level.”