Dayton to require city employees to get vaccine or weekly testing

The city of Dayton will require its 1,825 employees to either get the COVID-19 vaccine or regularly be tested for the virus ― making it one of the first Ohio cities to impose such measures, though public and private employers nationwide have taken similar steps.

City Manager Shelley Dickstein on Monday signed an executive order requiring city employees who are not fully vaccinated by Sept. 20 to get weekly testing.

Dickstein said she has a responsibility to provide a safe workplace and the new Delta variant is much more contagious than the original version of the coronavirus, which means unvaccinated individuals put the city’s workforce at significant risk of illness.

“I have an obligation to keep our 1,800 employees safe, and I have to think about all 1,800,” she said. “I have another obligation to make sure we can deliver services to our taxpayers, and COVID ... has continued to spread amongst the organization, and it will continue to have an impact on our ability to deliver services.”

Dickstein’s order says city employees must participate in weekly coronavirus testing beginning the third full week of September unless they are fully vaccinated.

“It is very clear from the medical information provided that vaccinations are the way for us to get through the pandemic,” Dickstein said.

Employees will be required to submit records to HR proving whether they are fully vaccinated. If they do not show proof of vaccination, workers will be responsible for getting coronavirus testing from outside vendors, though the city says it is looking into bringing testing services onsite.

Employees who do not comply with testing requirements will be removed from the workplace and will have to use vacation, personal leave or compensatory time, the city said.

Workers will not be allowed to use paid sick leave if they are sent home for failing to obey the new requirements.

Additionally, the city will pay for weekly testing only if employees who are not vaccinated have a valid medical or religious exemption, officials said.

HR and law department staff will determine a method for evaluating exemption claims, city officials said.

A growing number of companies and public sector employers are creating vaccinations requirements in response to rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, including New York City, California and Washington state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that people wear masks in all public indoor settings in areas with substantial transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

Dayton didn’t want to be overly heavy-handed and instead favors striking a balance between incentives and measures that ensure a safe and healthy workforce, Dickstein said. She said the city will continue to pay employees $100 to get the vaccine and workers are allowed to get the shots while on the clock.

Other Ohio communities, like Toledo, also have offered incentives to employees to get vaccinated, like extra comp time.

It’s unclear how much of Dayton’s workforce is vaccinated, but officials say it’s likely close to the statewide average. About 60% of Ohio’s adults have received at least one shot of the vaccine.

Earlier this month, the city announced it was once again requiring employees and visitors to municipal buildings to wear masks.

More than a dozen city employees tested positive for COVID-19 in late July and early August, which required many other unvaccinated employees to quarantine, using their own leave, city leaders said.

One unvaccinated employee was hospitalized in an intensive care unit, while another died after contracting the virus.

Brenda Andrews, a receptionist at City Hall, said she supports the new policy.

“It’s getting critical again and I don’t want to get sick,” she said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley last week said the city has publicized the safety measures it is taking to encourage other local employers to follow suit.

“We want other employers to do this work, too,” she said. “We are just not going to get through this and get to the other side if we do not get vaccination rates up.”

Union representatives for the police department, fire department and blue-collar city employees in various roles and divisions couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The city manager said she has been in communication with the city’s five unions about the new policy.

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