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Nearly three-fourths of Salt Lake County’s government workers are getting extra cash in their check this week, a bonus for being vaccinated.
The “Kick COVID to the Curb” effort started in October, pushed by Democratic Mayor Jenny Wilson and approved by the Republican-led County Council. At that time, Wilson thought the county workforce may fall under President Joe Biden’s call for big employers to require vaccinations or regular testing.
That mandate is now snarled in court cases and hasn’t taken effect.
Knowing that a mandate is a “challenge in this political environment,” Wilson and the council looked for an alternative.
“We were able, after talking with the council,” she said, “to get some agreement that an incentive might be a better way to move employees that still need a little bit of a nudge to get vaccinated.”
All employees had until Dec. 3 to show their proof of vaccination. Those who participated will receive $300 for being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and an additional $100 if they got a flu shot. They had a chance to get another $100 if they proved that all members of their households 12 and older are vaccinated against COVID-19. That money will be distributed this week.
The funds came from federal coronavirus aid. The council agreed to set aside $3.5 million for this effort, but the final bill came in at around $2.82 million.
In all, 5,032 employees participated. That is 74% of the county’s 6,763-strong workforce.
Full-time employees were more likely to take part, reaching 80%. While part-timers came in at 68%.
Wilson said she is “pleased with the results” and that her staff didn’t have a goal for the effort. Before this voluntary program, they had no knowledge of who was vaccinated or who wasn’t.
The county’s employees are vaccinated at a higher rate than the county as a whole. The county Health Department reports that 71.4% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated. In Utah, as a whole, the overall vaccination rate for those 12 and older is 68.9%.
In Salt Lake County, 234 employees got their vaccinations after the program started. In addition, 4,395 showed proof that their household was fully vaccinated, while 4,164 got a flu shot.
The mayor’s staffers were the most likely to participate at 94%, followed by 86% of the employees in the recorder’s office and 84% in the district attorney’s office. The lowest participation levels were employees for the surveyor (68%) and treasurer (69%).
Wilson said the effort is important for a few reasons. It makes the county better prepared if a federal vaccine mandate takes hold. It reduces the potential health care costs from employees who could get sick from the coronavirus, and it will likely save employees from using sick days.
It also could save lives.
“We have had employees of Salt Lake County who passed away from COVID,” the mayor said, “which is heartbreaking, tragic and costly.”
The county isn’t planning any additional incentive programs at this time, but will continue to monitor case rates in the weeks and months to come.
Utah government offers an incentive to state employees. Those covered by the state’s PEHP insurance can get $100 for those between ages 12 and 49 who get vaccinated for the first time. Those covered over age 50 can get $250 for their first vaccination. There’s a $50 incentive to get a booster.
Gov. Spencer Cox considered a wider incentive, similar to the vaccine lotteries offered in states like Ohio, where five people won $1 million. Utah’s Legislature was not keen on such a plan, and Cox eventually dropped the idea.
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