Connecticut officials were still trying to get a handle Wednesday on how many state employees were cooperating with the governor’s vaccination or weekly COVID testing order, which the state has now delayed until Monday.
During a morning press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont and advisors told reporters that about 19,000 of 32,000 executive branch employees had responded to a questionnaire and indicated they would be vaccinated. Another 3,000 had signalled their intent to cooperate with testing requirements and 10,000 were currently non-compliant.
“We still have thousands [of questionnaires] coming in every day,” Lamont said. “It is going to take us a few more days to sift through that to see exactly what the status is.”
Last month the governor ordered that state workers along with K-12 teachers and education employees provide proof they had been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or comply with a weekly testing requirement. Employees at state health care facilities do not have an option for testing.
The order had been scheduled to take effect Monday but, according to a state website, the administration has implemented a grace period extending the deadline until Oct. 4. Employees who refuse both options will be put on unpaid leave no later than Oct. 11.
The Lamont administration has negotiated the requirements with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, a group of labor unions which represent Connecticut state employees. One point which has remained under discussion is whether workers who decline to be vaccinated and opt for testing would foot the bill for their own weekly testing.
On Wednesday, the governor said the state would cover the fees, at least initially.
“We’ll pay for that for at least the initial month, make it easier for you to test. [But] we want you to get vaccinated to tell you the truth,” Lamont said.
Last week, SEBAC posted a notice to workers on its website saying that state employees should report to work this week unless directed otherwise. According to the labor group, several issues related to the requirement remain unresolved and some may ultimately be decided by a neutral arbitrator.
“Such issues include whether outside of mandatory testing facilities, testing should be paid for by the State and on State time, the exact nature of the consequence for not complying with the executive order, and whether there should be a cash incentive associated with being vaccinated,” the labor coalition wrote.
Asked what disciplinary action may eventually be taken against state workers who are placed on leave for refusing to be tested or vaccinated, Josh Geballe, state chief operating officer, deferred calling it a “question for another day.” However, the governor said he anticipates some workers will refuse.
“Look, there will be some people who say ‘Hell no’ and I’m sorry but that means you’re not safe,” Lamont said. “You’re not safe for the people around you and you’re not safe for the people you’re treating. They cannot come into work.”
The update comes just a day after the legislature gave final approval to extending the governor’s emergency powers on which the vaccine mandates and other public health orders are based. Those emergency declarations had previously been scheduled to expire on Thursday and will now continue until Feb. 15 unless plans are altered. Lamont told reporters he did not anticipate needing to extend the declarations again.
“Unless there’s another delta. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen but I think we’re in the right place,” Lamont said.