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Lamont: State employees responding to vaccination deadline

Gov. Ned Lamont
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public

Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday afternoon that the number of state employees non-compliant with a COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate was falling with the approach of an 11:59 p.m. deadline to report their status.

The experience mirrors the last-minute rush in other jurisdictions, most recently in the New York City schools, where thousands got inoculations in the past week, bringing the system’s vaccination rate to 95%, The New York Times reported.

“I think sometimes the deadline focuses the mind a bit,” Lamont said.

Lamont said he expected that about 90% of the 32,000 executive branch employees under his vaccination order will be inoculated, with most of the remainder opting for weekly testing and a far smaller minority failing to report either.

“Some of those are inadvertent, and we treat them with leniency,” Lamont said, referring to online reporting struggles some employees have had. “Some of those are defiant and just won’t do it. And they’ve got to go home.”

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, about 74% of the executive branch employees had reported being fully vaccinated and 15% reported starting weekly testing. The remaining 11% had not filed evidence of either.

Updated numbers were expected Monday evening, though no breakdowns by agency were expected before midweek.

Failure to comply will lead to unpaid suspensions, meaning not only a loss of salary but also responsibility for paying 100% of premiums to continue health coverage.

Workers failing to comply could be suspended as soon as Tuesday and no later than Oct. 11. No one will be suspended over an inability to file their status if they are working with a supervisor or human resources officer, Lamont said.

“Look, if it’s an inability, it’s a good-faith effort, they need a couple of days, we’ll work with you,” Lamont said.

State employee unions complained Friday that some workers feared suspension, even as they struggled to file online.

“I’ve tried to do everything in my power to comply. But I could be put out on leave on Tuesday,” said Robert Doty, a maintainer at the Department of Transportation. “This arbitrary deadline from Gov. Lamont has created extreme anxiety and confusion across all agencies, for employees who came to work every day during the pandemic.”

CSEA President Steve Anderson, an environmental analyst in the Department of Agriculture, said, “I’m fully vaxxed and submitted my information months ago. But the state keeps telling me I am not in compliance.”

Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said Doty and no other employee need fear unpaid leave if they have been vaccinated or tested and shared that information.

“We’re not going to put someone out on leave who is vaccinated or has been testing and has had system issues,” Geballe said. “We’re going to make sure those are going to get addressed.”

Employees have three ways to share their vaccination or testing status, the primary one using an online tool by WellSpark, the same company that already tracks state employee participation in HEP, the Health Enhancement Program.

State employees who participate in HEP pay $100 less in monthly premiums and lower copays if they show compliance with wellness programs that are expected to save the state and employees medical costs over the long term.

Geballe said the state also is accepting emailed and faxed vaccination or testing records.

Lamont directed the National Guard last week to begin planning for a deployment in support roles at short-handed state agencies, but he said Monday, “I don’t think we’re going to need them.”