The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed multiple policies meant to curb the spread of COVID in Pima County on Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Supervisor Heinz withdrew his proposal to require all healthcare workers in Pima County to be vaccinated against COVID. The Board received multiple letters and public comments in opposition to the proposed mandate.
But the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor Steve Christy opposed, to pass disincentives for unvaccinated employees.
Disincentives will include mandatory weekly COVID testing, taking away healthy lifestyle discounts for employees’ healthcare plans, and an additional $25.51 pay period surcharge to employee healthcare plans.
“I’m against any type of disincentives for employees. I really think this is opening up liability to no end,” said Supervisor Christy, who warned disincentives could lead to a hostile work environment.
Supervisor Adelita Grijalva quickly responded to Christy’s concerns by saying disincentives and vaccinations foster a safe work environment. Grijalva said there are some employees who can’t receive the vaccine and they need to be protected as well. County employees can submit a vaccine exemption form for medical and religious purposes.
At its Aug. 16 meeting, supervisors passed incentives for employees to get vaccinated, including a $300 bonus and three paid days off.
Huckelberry said there has been an increase in county employee vaccinations since the incentives passed. Only 43% of county employees were vaccinated before the incentives were enacted and employee vaccinations have now risen to 66% since Aug. 16.
Supervisor Grijalva said she was worried only 30% of the Sheriff’s Department is vaccinated.
Supervisor Rex Scott asked Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to create an anonymous survey of the remaining employees who may be vaccine-hesitant or resistant.
“This board voted not to mandate vaccines, but if we are going to put incentives and disincentives in place and neither of those are having the desired effect on the vaccine-hesitant or resistance, we as a board need to know the reasons why,” Scott said.
Board provides funding to domestic violence prevention
The Board unanimously passed a resolution to provide the Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse emergency shelter with $1 million to double their shelter capacity.
The Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse combats domestic violence in Pima County by providing services and shelters to individuals who live in abusive environments.
“COVID has had a particularly devastating impact on victims of domestic violence as incidents of abuse have risen, while the ability to reach out for help has been severely hampered by the increased amount of time victims and their abuse partners are at home together as well as the real fear of contracting the virus in pursuit of safety,” Pima County Behavioral Health Director Paula Perrera told Huckelberry in a memo.
Emerge! currently has 51 beds in their communal facility, which makes it difficult to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. According to Perrera’s memo, this forced Emerge! to move shelter participants into hotel rooms. The Board’s $1 million will help Emerge! reach its renovation goal of $3.5 million for new rooms and increased capacity. Increased capacity would help mitigate COVID within the Emerge! shelter and end the need for hotel contracts.
The Board passed another proactive COVID measure by voting 4-1 to establish a four-month contract of more than $2 million with Jot Properties to shelter COVID-positive asylum seekers.
This contract would provide a hotel in Pima County for asylum seekers to quarantine and receive medical care before continuing to travel in the United States. Funding would be provided by federal dollars from the Shelter Board National Program related to the American Rescue Plan Act passed earlier this year by Congress.
“Securing an entire facility will limit potential COVID-19 exposure to uninfected individuals, facilitate improved care and case management, and provide necessary and safe housing for individuals that would otherwise be in congregate care settings,” Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen told Huckelberry in a memo.
,Scott said this contract was an important public health measure that would protect Pima County from increased COVID exposure.
“A local government that is seeking to protect the public they serve and people who are here legally have not gone off the rails, as some have asserted,” Scott said. “Rather, it is acting to fulfill its fundamental duty.”