The Town of Chapel Hill is offering bonuses to all fully vaccinated employees starting in October, joining other counties in the Triangle area.
Employees have until Sept. 10 to qualify for the $400 bonuses.
Those who choose not to get vaccinated or refuse to share their vaccination status will be required to submit weekly to COVID-19 testing. Vaccinated employees do not have to get tested regularly.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the decision was made before the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
“We were seeing variant numbers rise, and we've made a commitment that if we see a percent positive that approaches five percent then we will shift and make adjustments, and we saw that it got up to 4.8 percent,” Hemminger said. “And with the University coming back into session and even more people in our community, it seemed like really good timing to put this all together.”
Hemminger added that the decision was made by four Orange County leaders — the chairperson of the Board of County Commissioners and the three mayors. Although the vaccine is not mandated for Town employees, it is strongly encouraged.
Orange County is currently under a countywide indoor mask mandate, which was reinstated on Aug. 11.
“This step is essential if we hope to slow the spread of the Delta variant," said Renee Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, in a statement. "If you know individuals who have been reluctant to get the vaccine, please take them to a vaccination site to get their shot and to protect yourself and your family members, friends and neighbors.”
Hemminger said that the incentive was especially important for Town employees since they often interact with members of the public.
“We have a lot of employees that work on teams and crews, especially in public works, and we have transit drivers, library staff and public safety and planning,” Hemminger said. “So we wanted people to be safe and feel safe working together and working with the public.”
Hemminger said that she believes the public is supportive of the Town’s decision to offer bonuses to encourage vaccinations.
“We have a really good vaccination rate in Chapel Hill in general and all of Orange County,” Hemminger said. “Most of the Town employees felt like it was a fair thing to do.”
Chapel Hill Town Council member Hongbin Gu said she believes it is extremely important for the Town to elevate vaccination rates.
“Our staff is facing and serving serving the public — elderly people, people with compromised immune systems, children, mothers and families,” Gu said. “So it’s very important for us to make sure that we make these incentives.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Pro Tempore and Town Council member Michael Parker said the decision was an inclusive way to reward those getting vaccinated without penalizing people who had already been vaccinated.
“We're not getting enough folks vaccinated, you know, for the safety of the individuals in the staff as well as the community at large,” Parker said. “It’s important that everybody gets vaccinated, so it was decided that this would be a good way.”
He said the incentive has led to a significant increase in vaccinations among Town employees.
“It appears to be working,” Parker said. “I am a pretty pragmatic guy, and I'm in favor of anything that works to get folks vaccinated, and this is working great.”
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