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Mecklenburg NC says 500 employees under COVID suspension

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More than 500 Mecklenburg County government employees have been suspended for failing to comply with the county’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing protocols.

The new tally was released Friday morning, after the Observer obtained an email County Manager Dena Diorio sent to county officials. The 511 suspensions across all departments means 9% of the county’s workers are suspended.

That count includes 477 employees suspended from Mecklenburg County departments, except for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office or Charlotte Mecklenburg Library — both agencies have separate Human Resources offices.

Some 34 library employees were also suspended. No sheriff’s office employees have been suspended for noncompliance.

The number of suspensions is slightly lower number than county officials first revealed on Wednesday, when roughly 600 employees were sent suspension notices. County officials had told the Observer those notices needed to be verified, particularly among employees who sent their COVID test information to the wrong department and had been wrongfully suspended.

In total, for county agencies excluding the library and sheriff’s office 198 full-time employees, 116 part-time employees and 163 temporary employees are suspended for noncompliance, according to the email Diorio sent to assistant county managers and county commissioners.

Mecklenburg began enforcing Diorio’s COVID-19 workforce policies this week. The county requires all unvaccinated and partially vaccinated employees to undergo weekly COVID testing — and provide proof of a negative test result.

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Over 500 Mecklenburg County employees have been suspended for noncompliance with the county COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The cost of weekly testing is covered by insurance, county spokeswoman Pam Escobar has told the Observer.

Diorio, who announced the policy in early August amid fears over the highly contagious delta variant, stopped short of imposing a vaccine mandate for all county employees. But Mecklenburg County Public Health employees are required to be vaccinated.

Unlike the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg is not offering financial incentives to encourage more employees to get their COVID-19 shots. City Manager Marcus Jones has yet to impose a similar weekly COVID testing protocol for unvaccinated Charlotte government workers.

Nearly 70% of full-time county employees are vaccinated, Mecklenburg officials disclosed last week.

By comparison, just 54% of all Mecklenburg County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Mecklenburg department suspensions

The Park and Recreation Department had the highest number of employees suspended for noncompliance: 187. That represents 24%of the staff. The majority of those suspended employees — 160 — are part-time or temporary workers.

The Board of Elections had the second highest total of suspended employees, with 101, or 79% of the staff. Ninety-eight of those employees are temporary workers.

Department of Social Services had by far the highest number of full-time workers suspended, with 78 full-time workers suspended out of 81 total suspended employees. That’s 7% of the staff.

Library spokeswoman Asha Ellison told the Observer that 34 out of 428 library employees were suspended on Wednesday for noncompliance with the COVID-19 testing policy.

And sheriff’s office spokeswoman Janet Parker told the Observer that the office has no non-compliant employees — even though the office reported one of the lowest vaccination rates among county agencies, with 54.5% of 1,027 full-time employees vaccinated as of Sept. 8.

Suspensions, dismissals

The county explained its COVID-19 testing policy in a town hall meeting with employees Thursday morning, later posted on online. Officials faced nearly 50 minutes of questions from employees in the meeting, along with complaints about long waits at testing sites.

Fully vaccinated county employees must submit proof of vaccination to Human Resources, county Human Resources Director Paula Woodhouse told employees. And unvaccinated employees, or employees who are partially vaccinated, must submit a negative COVID-19 test result to Human Resources every seven days, she said.

Anyone who misses the seven-day deadline will be suspended immediately without pay, she said.

Any employee who is noncompliant for two consecutive weeks will be dismissed, she said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on health care, aviation and sports business. She has been covering COVID-19 in North Carolina since March 2020. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Alison Kuznitz is a local government reporter for The Charlotte Observer, covering City Council and the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Since March, she has also reported on COVID-19 in North Carolina. She previously interned at The Boston Globe, The Hartford Courant and Hearst Connecticut Media Group, and is a Penn State graduate.
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