Gainesville to buy COVID testing kits for workers

The Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday to reinstate $250 bonuses for city employees who get vaccinated and to purchase enough COVID-19 testing kits to give each employee two.

As part of its regular meeting Thursday, the commission voted 5-0 to approve a three-part motion from Commissioner Harvey Ward regarding new COVID measures.

“What I am trying to achieve is to incentivize city workers to be vaccinated,” Ward said. “All the science indicates that vaccinated people are less likely to be hospitalized and die with COVID. I want our city workers healthy.”

The third part of the motion authorized Mayor Lauren Poe to write a letter to departing UF President Kent Fuchs, in which the city will ask him to reinstate the university’s screen, test and protect program and its COVID dashboard.

While the city’s earlier effort to require vaccination had been prohibited by the court system, the commission also had approved bonuses for workers who had gotten vaccinated. But it had held off on those payments because of state laws which prevent government entities from requiring people to show proof of vaccination status.

The city had reasoned the $250 payouts were prohibited by the state because employees would have to show proof of vaccination status to receive the bonuses.

At a General Policy meeting in December, Ward had made a motion to instead give a $250 bonus to all employees, regardless of vaccination status. That motion died for lack of a second.

However, a state spokeswoman later told the Gainesville Sun: “It is unclear why the city of Gainesville believes that these (state law) provisions, which prohibit vaccination requirements or mandates, would prohibit incentive payments.”

So at their first regular meeting of 2022, the commission once again authorized a one-time $250 payment to city workers who are fully vaccinated. Any employee who gets vaccinated in the future also will be eligible for the bonus.

“I am of the persuasion that we made a commitment to our employees and we need to follow through with that commitment,” Poe said. “I think it can be done in a way that respects what the governor and the legislature have laid out.”

Concerns about the difficulties in getting tested for COVID also prompted the commission to authorize the acquisition and purchase of home testing kits. In addition to keeping an “adequate in-house supply,” the city will provide each of its workers with two home testing kits.

“The surge [from the omicron variant] is imminent in terms of its growth,” Commissioner David Arreola said. “So I think it would be worthwhile for us to do that.”

The Florida Department of Health has revised its guidance on testing in the face of the climbing case numbers and an increased need for testing.

The mayor said that buying enough testing kits initially may be difficult, given the demand for the kits.

“I think we recognize that there are some short-term supply challenges, so we’ll just have to do the best we can within those,” Poe said.

The money to buy the home testing kits will come from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, specifically $300,000 set aside for equipment.

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