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With COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surging across much of Florida, the Orange County tax collector gave his employees a new directive: Get vaccinated by the end of August, or find a new job.
Tax Collector Scott Randolph said Monday that he had been considering the new policy for weeks, but spiking numbers across the region pushed him into action, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Randolph’s department has 316 employees in six offices who assist about 800,000 customers with property taxes, auto titles, and driver’s licenses.
“This variant’s getting bad. We have a responsibility to the employees to create a safe work environment and to the general public,” Randolph said. “We’re an agency that just can’t be closed.”
Some local governments have begun looking at possibly reimplementing mask mandates and other safety protocols that were nullified in a May 3 executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Randolph’s office is the second in Florida to require that employees be vaccinated. In April, the tax collector in Palm Beach County imposed a similar rule.
Also on Monday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the region is in “crisis mode” and that he is exploring ways to help lower infections. The county is seeing about 1,000 new COVID-19 infections a day, officials said.
The positivity rate for the virus in the county of 1.4 million residents has tripled to 14% from about 4.3% a month ago. More than 61% of county residents have had at least one vaccination shot, and Demings urged unvaccinated residents to get theirs as soon as possible.
In neighboring Seminole County, officials said they’re unable to bring back any restrictions that were in place last year, including requiring businesses to follow safety-protocol guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The state really tied everyone’s hands,” county spokesman Andy Wontor told the Sentinel. “We are just monitoring the situation now.”
Even so, the town of Palm Beach announced Monday that it has reinstated its facial covering policy for everyone — even those who are vaccinated — inside town-owned buildings.
The National Academy for State Health Policy said lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation to prohibit businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of work. But the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that employers could require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as long as they did not violate the Americans with Disabilities and the Civil Rights acts.
“We’ve run it through the lawyers,” Randolph said of his vaccine requirement, which exempts employees with medical exceptions and those with “sincere religious” objections. “We’re very much on solid ground.”