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Cassia sheriff asks commissioners to incentivize county employees to get COVID-19 vaccine
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Cassia sheriff asks commissioners to incentivize county employees to get COVID-19 vaccine

First tier workers get vaccine

Cathy Villalobos, a licensed practical nurse, prepares to give the COVID-19 vaccine to the next in line Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, at the Minidoka Memorial Hospital's ambulance bay in Rupert.

BURLEY — The Cassia County sheriff is hoping to avoid a repeat of his department’s troubles with COVID-19 by encouraging employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but county commissioners seemed unmoved by his plan.

Cassia County Sheriff George Warrell asked the commissioners Tuesday to consider using federal CARES funds to financially incentivize employees to get vaccinated.

The suggestion received little comment from the commissioners and no motion after Chairperson Leonard Beck said the county is no longer giving employees special paid time off if they contract the virus.

They now have to cover their time off on their own, he said.

“That could be their incentive,” Beck said.

Warrell said although the county can’t force employees to get the vaccine, the commissioners could approve a financial incentive that could boost the numbers getting the vaccine.

His proposal comes after seeing how COVID-19 impacted staffing at the sheriff’s office and took jail employees out of use.

“We don’t want to go through what we did last year with COVID,” Warrell said.

Since jail staffing issues kept it from taking as many state inmates, the vaccination effort could help financially, the sheriff said.

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“In the long run I think it could save us some money,” Warrell said, and the entire county could benefit from it, not just the sheriff’s office.

Cassia County Attorney McCord Larsen said the county could ask employees on a county-wide basis whether they have been vaccinated to derive a percentage for analysis without violating any health privacy laws.

In mid-June, Idaho public health officials said just over half of the state’s population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state public health officials.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little offered paid time off to state employees who get the vaccine, or who have already received it, according to the Associated Press.

“This morning, I informed Idaho state employees we’re offering them a new benefit – four hours of paid leave if they have received or choose to receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine!” Little said June 17 on Twitter. “The new benefit comes at no additional cost to Idaho taxpayers.”

The state is Idaho’s largest employer with about 25,000 employees.

The governor asked other employers in the state to take similar measures: “I encourage private employers to consider offering their employees the same benefit,” Little said on Twitter.

Health officials are encouraging children ages 12 and over to get vaccinated before fall. Respiratory illness tends to surge about the time students return to classrooms.

Little said in a letter to state workers that the COVID-19 vaccine is the best tool available to strengthen the workforce, protect jobs and save lives.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also recommended employers offer time off to incentivize their workers to protect themselves from the virus, which will minimize outbreaks in the workplace.

The time off could also give workers a chance to rest if they have side effects from the vaccine.

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