As COVID-19 case numbers rise and vaccination rates lag behind, some local municipalities are incentivizing employees to get the shot.
The city of Gainesville is giving employees $500 if they have already gotten vaccinated or if they start the vaccination process by Aug. 15, City Manager Bryan Lackey wrote in an email. He started discussing this incentive with his management team two weeks ago when COVID-19 case numbers in the community started to rise, Lackey wrote, and they started the program on July 30.
“With cases rising in our community, I strongly believe that getting the free COVID vaccine is the best and right way to combat the spread, rather than other methods that punish those that have gotten the vaccine,” Lackey wrote.
The incentive funds will be covered by the city’s employee benefit fund, Lackey wrote, which is primarily funded by employee benefit contributions.
“Our employees have been good consumers of their health care over the past few years which has helped hold down medical cost and allow the fund to become stable enough to cover this incentive,” he wrote.
The city of Oakwood starting Wednesday Aug. 4 implemented the same incentive, giving employees $500 as a reward for getting the vaccine, and it will apply to employees who already got the shot, City Manager B. R. White wrote in an email. Money for the incentive will come from American Rescue Plan funds, White wrote.
But Flowery Branch decided on a different way to incentivize employees to get the shot: Paid time off. Starting Aug. 2, the city decided to give employees one paid day off that would not count toward sick leave as a reward for receiving a vaccination. The incentive would apply to both those who already received the shot and those who have been vaccinated, said interim city manager Vickie Short. Employees are also allowed to go to vaccination appointments during work hours, she said.
Flowery Branch may have to set new masking guidelines soon with COVID case numbers increasing in the area, Short said, but they are waiting to see what happens at the state level and have not decided on any policy changes yet.
A few local governments, including Hall County, Lula and Braselton have not decided on any incentive structure for employees to get vaccinated yet.
“We are currently evaluating the possibility of a vaccine incentive for our employees and will continue to pursue all possible opportunities available to us to keep both them -- and the public they serve — safe,” Hall County’s public information officer, Katie Crumley, wrote in an email on Aug. 3.
The city of Lula has also discussed an incentive program but doesn’t have anything set yet, City Manager Dennis Bergin said.
Braselton has not considered any incentives for vaccination, said Jennifer Scott, the town manager and clerk. Neither has the city of Buford, according to an email from City Manager Bryan Kerlin.
As of Aug. 4, only 36% of Hall County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 40% of Georgians are vaccinated. There are 130 COVID-19 positive patients in care at the Northeast Georgia Health System as of Aug. 4, and 84% of those patients are unvaccinated.
NGHS started giving vaccinated employees $400 July 27 when only 50% of its staff was vaccinated. That number was updated Aug. 4 showing that 55% of employees are now fully vaccinated and that number will be updated weekly, said Sean Couch, NGHS director of public relations and marketing.