Sep 30, 2021 - COVID

Polk County's new employee vaccine policy takes effect

Illustration of a syringe checking off boxes on a list

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Starting today, Polk County's 1,400 employees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing.

Why it matters: Those who refuse both options will be considered insubordinate and face termination, county administrator John Norris told Axios this week.

  • It's still too early to determine whether there might be an employee exodus linked with the new policy approved by county supervisors this month, he said.

State of play: Iowa law bans COVID-19 vaccine passports, but it doesn't restrict businesses or governments from requiring that employees get vaccinated.

  • Des Moines' government is reviewing a track-and-verify vaccination system and could implement its own requirements in coming weeks, spokesman Al Setka told us yesterday.
  • Meanwhile, metro hospitals are offering a retention bonus ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline when employees who aren't vaccinated will be asked to resign or face termination.

Another incentive: Polk County offers up to 80 hours of PTO for employees who contract COVID-19.

  • Yes, but: It’s now only available for vaccinated workers with breakthrough cases.

By the numbers: New COVID-19 cases in Iowa are down about 25% over the last two weeks, according to the New York Times. But hospitalizations are up more than 10% and deaths have spiked by more than 200%.

  • About 55% of Iowans are fully vaccinated.

The big picture: Hiring and firing based on vaccination status is becoming more common, and businesses are playing key roles in upping vaccination rates, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

  • President Biden this month announced a federal mandate for all private employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly tests.

What's ahead: Enforcement rules for Biden's mandate are being drafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

  • Fines could go as high as $700,000 for willful or repeated violations under a bill being considered by U.S. House Democrats.

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