County Opposes Vaccine Mandate For Health Care Workers
MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County is calling on the state to permit unvaccinated employees in the health industry to keep their jobs as long as they get regularly tested.
During this week’s Chautauqua County Legislature meeting, lawmakers voted 17-2 for a motion calling on elected officials of the state of New York to consider alternatives to vaccination mandates for healthcare workers.
Motions have no legal authority, but are designed to show a position of the supermajority of a governing body.
The motion, which was introduced by Legislators Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott; and County Executive PJ Wendel, notes that the state now requires most health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“In order to not deprive health care workers of their livelihood, alternative preventive procedures against COVID-19 infection and transmission should be considered for those health care workers who decline to get vaccinated due to their religious beliefs, personal conscience or other core beliefs,” the motion states. “Such alternative preventive procedures might include, but not be limited to, daily rapid COVID-19 testing, aggressive use of personal protective equipment, enhanced facility ventilation and sterilization techniques, and/or assignment of unvaccinated health care workers to less vulnerable patients and clients.”
Before the vote took place, audience members weighted in on the motion.
Marcia Johnson of Fredonia asked if the county Department of Health was shown the motion and if they supported it. “This is nonsensical,” she said.
She noted how the resolution calls for unvaccinated health care employees only work with those who are less vulnerable. “This is an acknowledgment that they may present more of a risk to patients,” she said.
Gerrit Cain of Frewsburg, however, supports the motion. “It’s wrong to threaten someone else’s livelihood if they don’t get a vaccine. It’s wrong to threaten someone’s education if they don’t get a vaccine. You know that’s wrong,” he said.
During the debate among lawmakers, Legislator Bill Ward, R-Mayville, shared that his wife is an emergency room nurse. “She does not have the luxury of arguing with this virus,” he said.
He noted that he wished the motion stated that the county Health Department recommends the vaccine for all people. “Our health department is about getting as many folks vaccinated as possible,” he said.
He worries the motion sends the wrong message, but said he’s not opposed to it. “I don’t think it’s the best solution, (but) if we can allow folks to test out of this. … I guess that I can reluctantly support it,” he said.
Legislator Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, agreed, saying he, too, reluctantly supports it. “I don’t want to cripple the health care industry. When I listen to the news and I hear health care workers leaving their jobs because they don’t get the vaccination, and putting the strain on our resources in the emergency room, and the ICU units, and other areas, something needs to be done,” he said.
Legislator Christine Starks, D-Fredonia, encourages everyone to be vaccinated, but sees the motion as a good compromise. “This does give a responsible alternative,” she said.
During the vote, Legislators Ken Lawton, R-Lakewood and Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown, voted against it. All others voted in favor.
A copy of the motion will be forwarded to Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Minority Leader Robert Ortt, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Minority Leader William Barclay, as well as local representatives state Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Andy Goodell.
Last month, multiple people spoke at the legislature meeting asking county lawmakers to protect health care workers who were losing their jobs due to New York’s vaccination mandate for employees in the health care field. There were also protesters outside, opposing vaccine mandates.