Updated Sept. 21
Dukes County employees will soon be required to be fully vaccinated if they are working in-person in county buildings, barring exemptions for sincerely held religious beliefs and medical reasons.
At the commission’s meeting Wednesday, Dukes County commissioners voted to implement a mandatory vaccination policy modeled after the policy adopted by the town of West Tisbury. After hearing from labor counsel on the mandate, the commission met again the following Monday, and unanimously approved the policy to require all county employees to be vaccinated, barring religious or medical exemptions.
Initially, county manager Martina Thornton suggested a voluntary policy that would allow unvaccinated employees to be in county buildings as long as they are wearing masks.
County employees include anyone who has access to county buildings such as the administration building, healthcare access, the courthouse (apart from Trial Court) and the Registry of Deeds space.
Thornton said she would not suggest a mandate, as everyone on county staff is fully vaccinated except for one person.
She added that one employee sent a letter to county officials “basically pleading not to mandate vaccination,” and said if employees are doing everything necessary to protect themselves and others by wearing masks whenever they are in county buildings, there is no reason to adopt a mandate.
Commissioner Peter Wharton said he has extensive experience dealing with these kinds of policies through his time working at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Mass General, and stressed that all hospital employees are required to be fully vaccinated no later than Oct. 15.
This date allows staff to get their vaccinations with enough time in between each shot to be fully compliant.
“We need to make sure the date is four weeks out, so people can get all their vaccinations,” Wharton said.
In order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations related to vaccinations, sincerely held religious beliefs and medical exemptions need to be included in any mandatory policy, Wharton said.
“I would also like to see that those are approved and run by our own legal counsel, since we will have to answer for them,” Wharton added. “For all people who are public-facing, it would seem to me that for the safety of the many, we have as many people vaccinated as possible.”
Martha Kane, a county employee, said she works in an office where folks aren’t fully vaccinated, and implored the commission to follow federal, state, and local agencies in mandating vaccination.
“I am not 100 percent comfortable in my workplace. I have underlying conditions, I am vaccinated, but Delta is different. If you are physically able to get this vaccine, I believe it is your duty to your family, your coworkers, and your community to do so,” Kane said.
Register of Deeds Paulo DeOliveira suggested if the board decides to mandate vaccination, any exemption request that is filed should go through the personnel board, to which Thornton said the county’s labor counsel should be the one to review the requests.
Commissioner Keith Chatinover said West Tisbury has already heavily vetted their policy, and suggested taking that exact policy to use it for the county.
Updated with Monday’s official vote.