Georgia’s most populous county is considering mandating COVID-19 vaccines or frequent tests for its employees, saying incentives to get protected against the virus aren’t working.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts told WSB-TV that the commission could debate a mandate for employees later this week.
A number of hospital systems have mandated vaccines for employees in Georgia, as have some private colleges and universities and other private employers.
Gov. Brian Kemp in May issued an executive order saying public agencies in Georgia can’t require people to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, a step his administration says ultimately means no agency can require anyone to receive the vaccination. It’s unclear if Fulton’s policy could run afoul of that ruling.
Kemp on Tuesday reiterated his voluntary approach to controlling the virus even as infections continued to climb.
“Lockdowns, mandates, and school closures show little sign of stopping the virus, while only creating serious societal and economic issues of their own,” Kemp told a Georgia Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Columbus. “Georgians know how to protect themselves from COVID-19, and they know the risks. As I’ve said from the beginning, only people doing the right thing will stop this virus — not government mandates.”
Georgia’s seven-day rolling average of positive COVID-19 tests rose above 5,300 on Tuesday, the worst since early February. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients rose above 3,600, continuing to climb by 100 or more a day even as hospital leaders warn that bed space is beginning to dwindle in some parts of the state.
Pitts, a Democrat, said he wants a a negative test every 48 hours, or proof of vaccination. “One of the two,” he said. “Otherwise, you risk the possibility, the strong possibility of losing your job.”
He said incentives such as $150 for getting the vaccine or a chance to win $10,000 in a lottery did little to budge the number of people getting shots.
Other government agencies continue to impose mask mandates. The Atlanta suburb of South Fulton joined Atlanta, Savannah and Athens-Clarke County in requiring people to wear masks in public places beyond government buildings. The city said it would reevaluate the order in two weeks.
Baldwin and Greene counties joined school districts requiring masks to be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status. At least 36 school districts are requiring masks in some or all schools. Those mandates cover more than 740,000 students statewide, more than 43% of Georgia’s public school population.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told WTOC-TV that the city could decide to require public events to be scaled back, or stop issuing permits for large events in public spaces.
“If it doesn’t change, then we can’t have those events,” he said. “We just can’t have them.”
Johnson said Savannah isn’t currently considering requiring vaccination for its employees.
In southwest Georgia, Miller County Hospital CEO Robin Rau told WAGA-TV that the virus had swept through her community quickly.
“It is like those California wildfires,” Rau said. “It is so contagious.”
She said hospital employees are struggling to place patients needing higher levels of care, sometimes making 50 to 100 calls to find a bed for a patient at another hospital.
“Imagine the manpower that it takes for my entire nursing staff to just constantly dial, dial, dial, asking for help for one of our neighbors or our family members,” Rau said.
She said a patient died last week because of transfer delays.
“These are our family members, our friends. So, emotionally, it’s … there wasn’t a day last week when people weren’t crying over the stress and the heartache of it,” Rau said. “Largely, this is avoidable.”