CHARLES TOWN — While they’re encouraged to practice physical distance when they can, Jefferson County government employees won’t have to wear a face covering on the job or get vaccinated against coronavirus to keep their job.
At least for now, some acknowledged.
“We’ve got to adapt to the times and the changes,” said Commissioner Tricia Jackson, who supported a statement for the county government to avoid mask or vaccination mandate at this time. “So, you’re right, we have no idea what the future holds and what might happen. So this is for current conditions and current situations.”
Jackson was agreeing with Commissioner Jane Tabb, who cautioned commissioners that the pandemic is a new, fluid public health situation.
Tabb cast the lone vote against a motion against the statement highlighting that county’s current policy that its employees will have the option—but face a requirement—to wear a mask and get vaccinated.
“I understand where you all are coming from and that it should be an individual decision,” Tabb said. “But I don’t think we can predict the future either and know that we will never have to require masks and vaccinations.”
“I’ve never been through a pandemic before,” she continued, “and I think making the blanket statement at this time is not the best path to pursue.”
Commissioner Steve Stolipher made a motion to adopt a statement “to make it clear” that the county government was not requiring its employees to get vaccinated or wear a mask while on the job.
However, Stolipher also said he recognizes that it’s possible Gov. Jim Justice, “or somebody that has a higher authority than we do,” might impose a mask or vaccination mandate that could affect Jefferson County residents.
That’s how the county commission staked its position on the currently timely and frequently polarizing topic of what coronavirus protection measures organizations can or should impose on their workers.
The commission’s unprompted statement comes in the wake of the Jefferson County Board of Education opening schools with a mask mandate. It also follows a special meeting the Charles Town City Council called on Aug. 24 to debate whether to impose a mask and vaccination mandate on the city’s employees.
“This has been a hot topic everywhere,” Stolipher acknowledged. “People are concerned about vaccinations, what we’re going to do with masks and everything.”
The Board of Education adopted the mask mandate three days before schools opened to help avoid COVID quarantines that keep students and teachers out of classrooms. The board plans on revisiting its decision on Sept. 27 after receiving a county health department update on the spread of the coronavirus.
Charles Town’s council members adopted a mask-wearing mandate as long as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies Jefferson County as a “high or substantial” area of COVID transmission. The council had planned to revisit the issue this Tuesday.
While she agreed with Tabb that circumstances can change, Jackson voiced the position with Stolipher that mask-wearing and vaccinations for county employees will be an individual’s choice.
“But we do encourage everybody to social distance,” Stolipher added.
Stolipher said extra safety precautions—such as putting up “more plexiglass around your desk”—will be taken to help any county employee continue to feel comfortable or safe in his or her work position.
“Certainly, if you want to wear a mask, you can wear a mask,” he added. “If you don’t, that’s fine. If you want a vaccination, you can get a vaccination.”
Jackson added a clarification to the commission’s adopted public statement that the commission supports the right of businesses to set their own pandemic safety policies. The commission, she said adding to the public statement, also doesn’t support any pandemic restrictions that would close businesses.
“I do believe it is for businesses to decide what their comfort level is in serving their patrons,” Jackson said.
Commissioners Clare Ath and Caleb Hudson did not speak about the policy statement but voted to adopt it.