Lake County requiring COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing for 600 employees
Lake County will require about 600 of its employees to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly testing for the virus.
The policy was enacted Tuesday by the Lake County Board after a spirited discussion and 16-5 vote that fell mainly along party lines. Democrats hold a 15-6 majority on the county board. Ann Maine of Lincolnshire was the only Republican to join the majority.
It applies to county employees in departments or offices supervised by the county administrator, as well as those who fall under the authority of the county board's employee policies and procedures manual. It does not apply to employees who work under separately elected county officials, such as the treasurer.
Supporters said the policy is an important and reasonable step given the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and the need to protect the health of employees and the public.
"I'm happy for our employees and I'm happy for the reasonable approach that this policy includes," said board member Paul Frank of Highland Park.
The new policy emerged from the county board's financial and administrative committee, which Frank chairs.
"This policy does not require anyone to be vaccinated. This policy requires people to be tested," Frank said, adding that testing is convenient, free and readily available.
Unvaccinated people are more likely to contract, transmit and experience more severe symptoms, the majority agreed.
The policy goes into effect Jan. 15. Testing frequency could increase in the event of positive cases, according to the policy. Employees can ask for "accommodations" from the vaccination for medical or religious reasons.
Failure to comply could lead to discipline up to an including unpaid suspension.
Frank said the Lake County Health Department, the county's largest with about 800 employees, also has implemented the policy with a high rate of compliance.
Some board members argued there hadn't been enough time before the vote to discuss various aspects of the measure. Others were concerned about privacy rights or potential legal action against the county.
Michael Danforth, a Republican from Fox River Grove and member of the finance committee, said the policy was ramrodded through with "no real discussion."
"Nobody has any real answers concerning the impact on our employees or our potential legal exposure regarding this new -- and, in my opinion, ill-conceived -- policy that leaves me with more questions and concerns the deeper I dig into it," Danforth said in a letter to board members late last week.
His motion Tuesday to refer the policy back to the finance committee failed with 7 members in favor and 14 voting against.
The policy requires unvaccinated employees to wear face masks.
Board member Dick Barr of Round Lake Beach Based noted that vaccinated people also can transmit the virus. Barr, who is vaccinated, agreed "COVID is 100% real and 100% can be deadly."
But he said he was concerned about the structure of the ordinance and its effect on employees.
"This particular ordinance discriminates against employees who are unvaccinated," he said. His motion requiring masking and testing for all failed with 17 votes against.
Thousands of public and private sector employees throughout Illinois face similar policies or requirements as just enacted in Lake County.
"We are not the first employer to take this very reasonable step to protect our employees," Frank said.
He also cautioned that false or deliberately misleading information can affect vaccine confidence and rates.