An Update on COVID-19 Vaccination for Local Government Employers

Published for Coates' Canons on March 04, 2021.

Starting now, many, but not all, local government employees are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.  In an earlier blog post, I outlined North Carolina’s vaccination priority plan. The state has made changes to the plan to align it more closely with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations and with the realities of vaccine availability. A recent increase in the supply of vaccines means that more local government employees are now eligible.

Priority Groups and Eligibility Dates for Local Government Employee Vaccination

The North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccination Plan (the “ NC Plan”) calls for COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed in five phases (called “Groups”) based on a combination of high risk of severe illness from the virus and high risk of exposure to the virus. Each Group has ranked sub-groups. As of the date of publication, Groups 1, 2 and now 3 are now eligible for vaccination against COVID-19. Beginning on March 24, 2021, certain sub-groups of Group 4 will also be eligible.

As explained in my earlier blog post, Group 1 is now eligible. It is limited to health care workers and COVID-19 responders at high risk for exposure based on their work duties or who are vital to the vaccine response. Included in this group are local government EMTs and paramedics and any others performing intubations or CPR; those administering intranasal COVID-tests; and those administering the vaccine. Non-health care employees who volunteer to help with the vaccination effort are also eligible members of Group 1. See the NC DHHS Fact Sheet, Deeper Dive: Group 1.

Group 2 is currently eligible. It includes anyone 65 years of age and older.

Group 3 is now eligible. It is made up of frontline essential workers. This group includes many, but not all, local government employees who must work in-person at the worksite. The fields of local government work included in Group 3 are not necessarily intuitive, so it is important that employers who are requiring or encouraging their employees to get vaccinated pay close attention to the requirements for Group 3.

To qualify for vaccination in Group 3, an employee must 1) be required to work in-person, on-site at the workplace, and 2) work in one of eight essential sectors identified by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (“NC DHHS”). For local government purposes, the relevant sectors among the eight are

  • Government and Community Services,
  • Public Safety,
  • Transportation,
  • Health Care and Public Health (to the extent not covered by Group 1), and
  • Education.

The other sectors are Critical Manufacturing, Essential Goods and Food and Agriculture. See the NC DHHS Fact Sheet, Deeper Dive: Group 3 and NC DHHS’s Interim Essential Industry Employer Guidance for Vaccinating North Carolinians. NC DHHS expressly links the work done in these sectors to those outlined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure and Security Agency’s Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 4 (the “CISA Guidance”). Cross-referencing the CISA Guidance, it appears that the local government employees eligible for vaccination as part of Group 3 are those who work on-site in the following areas:

  • public safety workers and support staff, including law enforcement, fire, EMS and emergency management personnel;
  • 911 telecommunicators;
  • human services workers & support staff (such as DSS and public health employees);
  • city and county engineers who perform safety inspections;
  • transit workers and dispatchers, including maintenance and repair workers;
  • public works staff who support the operation of roads and bridges and those who engage in vehicle repair and maintenance for the local government employer (in other words, not all public works staff);
  • IT staff who support emergency management, 911, public safety and other critical government operations and maintain cyber security for local health department operations (in other words, not all IT staff);
  • occupational safety specialists;
  • registers of deeds and their employees;
  • purchasing and procurement employees involved in the COVID-19 relief effort (in other words, not all purchasing staff);
  • jail and corrections staff;
  • those working in the court system, and
  • food service/cafeteria staff working for local government entities, corrections or the court system.

Elected officials are also included in Group 3. Public employers must remember, however, that mere employment in one of these sectors does not automatically make an employee eligible for vaccination in Group 3. To be eligible for vaccination in Group 3, a public employee in one of the fields listed above must be required to work on-site. Employees working remotely are not part of Group 3.

Group 4 includes eight essential infrastructure areas identified by CISA that are not included in Group 3. Group 4 essential workers include finance department personnel; purchasing and procurement personnel; general public works personnel, including those involved in solid waste and recycling; those who work in traffic signal maintenance; general IT staff; water and wastewater operators; personnel at other local government-run utilities; and parks and recreation employees.  These Group 4 essential workers will become eligible at a later date yet to be determined.

Again, only Groups 1, 2 and 3 are active and eligible for vaccination as of the date this post has been published.

Group 4 expands the pool of those eligible for vaccination to include not only those essential workers not included in Group 3, but all adults at high risk of exposure and at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as well as homeless adults and those living in jail or prison settings.

The sub-groups of adults at increased risk of severe illness, adults experiencing homelessness and those who are incarcerated will be eligible for vaccination beginning on March 24, 2021, before Group 4 essential workers. Again, Group 4 essential workers will be eligible at a later date yet to be determined. See the NC DHHS Fact Sheet, Deeper Dive: Group 4. Group 4 local government employees eligible as of March 24 include anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, being immunosuppressed from an organ transplant, obesity, serious heart condition, sickle cell disease and type 2 diabetes, among others.

As of the publication date, NC DHHS is not requiring proof that an individual is employed in an essential service. Individuals will be asked to self-attest to their eligibility.

Group 5 covers everyone else.

This blog post is an attempt to help local governments navigate the process of getting as many employees vaccinated as quickly as possible. Local government employers should remember that NC DHHS is the ultimate authority for interpretation of the vaccination plan groups and for how the CISA guidance applies to them. Check back here and here frequently to see if there are updates to NC DHHS guidances.

Conclusion

While the current vaccination plan continues to make it difficult for North Carolina public employers to keep track of which employees have been vaccinated and to plan for a full resumption of services, the good news is that many local government employees are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination and that by late spring, even more – if not all – can “get their shot.”

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Topics - Local and State Government