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Chamber Conference hosts panel on COVID-19 Vaccines in the Workplace

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 10:41 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce hosted its Community Conference in Amelia Island during the weekend of August 13 through 15.

One of the panel topics was focused on COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace. Healthcare professionals and County Administrator Vince Long participated in a discussion on the legal, human resources, and medical issues surrounding the shot.

“There’s so much information and noise out there today. So our panelists are going to help us try to sift through all of that,” said Dr. Andrea Friall with TMH, kicking off the discussion.

Weeks ago, County Administrator Vince Long announced that as a condition of employment, Leon County employees will need to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The Delta variant increased dramatically in cases, and vaccinations trended in the other direction, it created sort of a perfect storm for the resurgence of the virus,” said Long.

Long said it was an easy decision for two reasons; first, the employer has an obligation to provide a safe workplace, and second, county employees perform essential work in the community that cannot be put on pause.

“At Leon County in our organization, we just lost our first employee to COVID this week. And I’ll give you another sobering number: 47 years old. Otherwise healthy,” Long said, referring to the death of a Leon County EMT.

Long ticked through numbers from the pandemic, discussing why the community “cannot afford to have a repeat performance”

He said County leaders thought they’d seen the worst of the virus before the vaccine was available.

“Today [Saturday, August 14] we’ve broken that record and we’ve got 150 people in our local hospitals,” said Long. “That number was zero five months ago.”

Long said during the pandemic, Leon County distributed 1.7 million pieces of PPE, stood up dozens of programs and provided $40 million of direct assistance to individuals, businesses, and non-profits.

Of that funding, $23 million went to 7,500 people for basic living expenses, including rent, mortgage, and utilities. $18 million went to 930 local businesses.

The County also retrofitted four homeless shelters, distributed 3 million meals with Second Harvest, provided 5,000 COVID-19 emergency medical responses, and kept the Emergency Operations Center open for upwards of 500 days.

“It’s incumbent on us to do absolutely everything we can do with the information we have,” said Long.

He said overall, County employees have been mostly supportive.

Dr. Monique Butler is HCA’s Chief Medical Officer; that group of hospitals includes Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee.

Dr. Butler says it’s now a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

“We bypassed the previous surge here in July where we had total out of our 15 hospitals about 660 patients with COVID-19 including both medical, surgery, and ICU. As of [Sunday] morning we had 1,220 patients,” said Dr. Butler.

She also added that wearing a mask works.

“If you look at the data, the FLU season last year, and wearing the mask, our number of flu cases went down unbelievably, I’ve been practicing medicine for over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Dr. Butler.

Another panelist, Tom Harrison with Tallahassee Primary Care Associations, agreed.

“Masks count,” said Harrison.

Dr. Friall said legal experts recommend businesses keep their HR rules up to date as local and state regulations change.

Long had advice for other employers.

“Just lead on the issue. Provide clarity in the workplace, and I think you’ll find that your employees will step up,” he said.

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