Monroe County OKs $1K vaccination incentive for each employee as pandemic continues surge

At its Tuesday work session, the Monroe County council approved a $1,000 reward for each full-time employee who can show they have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Part-time employees are also eligible for a $500 payment, if they can show they’ve been vaccinated.

The latest report for Monroe County, included with the state’s pandemic dashboard update on Wednesday, shows 49 new positive cases for the last day of November. That nudges the 7-day rolling average up to around 32 cases a day.

A recent single-digit day—9 positive cases reported on Nov. 26—has helped to drop the rolling average from its most recent peak of around 40. Three days from now, when that lower figure falls out of the rolling average, an upward trend could be more apparent in the data chart.

The county’s pattern for positive cases looks like it could be following the statewide trend, which seems to be echoing last year’s Thanksgiving dip followed by another rise.

In the last 30 days, Monroe County has seen 17 deaths due to COVID-19.

The county government’s vaccination incentive for its employees comes ahead of a Jan. 4 deadline for vaccination or testing that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has required for employers with more than 100 workers. Under the OSHA requirement, employees would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4, or get a weekly test for the virus.

But the OSHA requirement has been challenged in federal court and is currently stayed, so it’s not clear if and when it might be enforced.

At Tuesday’s county council meeting, administrator for the county commissioners, Angie Purdie, described the county’s incentive program as a “spoonful of sugar” approach to convincing employees to get vaccinated.

Purdie ballparked the number of full-timers at the county at around 566 and part-timers at around 250. That would work out to a maximum payout of about $690,000, if all employees at the county were to be vaccinated.

Employees who have not yet started the vaccination process would not likely be able to complete it before the end of the year. The Pfizer and Moderna products require a two-dose regimen spaced a few weeks apart.

That’s why the incentive program was implemented by amending both the 2021 and the 2022 salary ordinances for the county.

In the short term, the money that’s needed to make the vaccination incentive payouts will come from the county’s health insurance reserve fund, which currently has a balance of about $2.5 million. In the longer term, the plan is to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay for the incentives.

In March, the city of Bloomington announced a $100 incentive to encourage its more than 850 employees to get vaccinated. More recently, the city of Bloomington implemented a new vaccination incentive for its employees in connection with its insurance plan. For employees who are on the city’s plan, their health insurance will increase by $600, if they are not vaccinated.

At the most recent biweekly news conference of local leaders on pandemic response, which was held on Nov. 19, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton reported that 650 employees, or just over 70 percent, had been vaccinated.