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Coronavirus Government News Sussex County

Rehoboth issues first municipal vax-or-test policy

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REHOBOTH BEACH — The “summer capital of the nation” will require city staff to be vaccinated or be tested weekly starting Jan. 3, in line with the longstanding requirements set by Gov. John Carney for many state employees.

Rehoboth Beach City Manager Sharon Lynn announced the policy decision this week due to the ongoing seasonal surge and the health risks it poses to city employees. The city employs 95 people, and it has seen an increase in staff who tested positive recently.

“As with every COVID-related decision that I have made over the last 22 months, my absolute first and foremost responsibility is to provide a safe and healthy working environment to all employees and to the community we serve,” Lynn said in a press statement.

“Given the recent and rapid emergence of the Omicron variant … we want to reduce the risk as much as possible,” Lynn added.

Rehoboth Beach defines a fully vaccinated employee as someone who has received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as a booster, if eligible. City staff will still be required to wear masks.

Employees who choose not to get vaccinated must provide weekly negative COVID test results in order to report to work each week. Those who do not comply will receive a notice and have an opportunity to explain to city officials, however, they will not be permitted to work until they either get tested or vaccinated.

City staff who do not test or show proof of vaccination may face “discipline up to and including termination,” according to Rehoboth Beach officials.

It may be the first municipal government in Delaware to institute a vaccine-or-test policy, according to the Delaware League of Local Governments, a nonprofit that represents municipal bodies throughout the state.

“Many cities across America, like New York City, Boston, Baltimore and Rockville, Md., have instituted policies or are now tightening the rules or the deadlines for municipal workers to be fully vaccinated,” DLLG Executive Director Marcia Scott said.

Rehoboth Beach has a population of roughly 1,400 people, but the resort swells to 25,000 in the summer and thousands more flock outside city limits to work in the booming hospitality industry. Tourism in Sussex County alone brings an average of 19,750 jobs, according to an annual report from Southern Delaware Tourism.

“I applaud Rehoboth Beach City Manager Sharon Lynn for instituting this policy. Municipalities like Rehoboth Beach have employees that are frontline, critical workers. They provide essential services and programs to residents such as law enforcement, refuse collection, and utilities like water and wastewater provision,” Scott said. “These policies not only keep municipal employees safe and healthy, and prevent the spread of infection, but also ensure that a full complement of workers are available to carry out essential public services for residents.”

The resort’s announcement comes right on the heels of rising concern of the omicron variant. Delaware has seen a 32% increase in the past two weeks, but that has been fueled by the delta variant. The omicron variant is reported to be highly more tranmissionable and accounts for 73% of new cases in the United States, and was detected in Delaware last week.

Rehoboth may be the first municipal government in Delaware to have issued a vaccine or test policy, but many office employers in northern Delaware like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, AstraZeneca, Amtrak, and Capital One have imposed similar policies. The University of Delaware and Citi are two rare large employers in the state that have a hard vaccine policy.

Health care systems like ChristianaCare, Nemours and Saint Francis have also imposed strict vaccine policies. Meanwhile, Beebe Healthcare, Bayhealth and Tidal Health Nanticoke were originally going to follow a federal policy but have since paused while it is currently being challenged in court.

Delaware’s largest employer – the state government – has been imposing vaccine-or-test requirements over the last four months. Over time, Carney issued a vaccinate-or-test order that impacted 14,000 state health care workers, 14,000 employees in the executive branch, and at least 20,000 educators.

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