Starting next month, all state employees, health care staff, and staff at long-term care centers, regulated by the Division of Health Care Quality, must either provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or be subject to regular COVID-19 testing.
Vaccination proof, in all instances, must be provided by September 30, 2021. Additional information will be provided to state employees by the Delaware Department of Human Resources.
The requirements come as cases of the Delta variant surge in the state.
"This Delta variant is just a new ballgame, and we need to stop it before it gets out of control," said Carney.
Cases of coronavirus have tripled in recent weeks in Delaware. Thursday, August 12, 2021, new cases on a seven-day moving average rose above 200 to 218. Hospitalizations stand at 108. The state's test positivity rate, a key benchmark often cited by the Carney administration, has also surpassed 5%. It stands at 6% though the number of tests is markedly lower than at the height of the pandemic.
Carney told WDEL he didn't want to enact a strict mandate because the Department of Correction already faces staffing challenges that pre-date COVID-19. Long-term care centers started facing issues during the pandemic.
"We are concerned about that, staffing has been an issue outside of COVID-19 and...we're trying to meet people where they are, encourage them to get vaccinated, address the concerns that they have and the hesitancy that they have, and put in place a mechanism that will protect people in the event that they continue to persist without getting vaccinated."
While the governor is hopeful the requirements will increase vaccinations, at the very least, it will increase testing.
"The overall objective is to get more people tested, and we've been studying the messaging that works best, and we thought that having an option like this--not a strict mandate--would have a better long-term effect, but we'll see whether than is born out," he told WDEL. "In any case, the people who are not vaccinated will have a requirement to get tested, and we'll have a better chance of stopping spread in particular areas before it gets out of control."
Carney is also encouraging private employers to institute similar requirements to encourage vaccinations. While the state’s requirements will offer employees the choice between getting vaccinated or getting tested, federal guidance permits employers to require vaccinations, as several Delaware employers have decided to do. Employees who refuse won't likely be eligible for unemployment, according to employment experts.
"We're encouraging private employers to even go beyond what we're requiring if it's the best thing for their facilities," said Carney.
ChristianaCare, the state's largest private employer, announced on July 29 that it would require all employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Employees have until September 21, 2021, to get their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The mandate has prompted rallies outside the hospital with health care system leaders, saying the Delta variant "tipped the scale" in efforts to balance personal freedoms with the right to a safe workplace.
"Private employers are taking the lead and my hats off, and thanks to the hospitals that have done that. Obviously, they are front-line healthcare providers; they're been great partners of ours...since the COVID-19 hit our state," said Carney.
The requirements, however, do not extend to educators. They're considered district employees not state employees. The Delaware State Education Association sent a letter to its members clarifying any confusion.
"If you are working in a school district you are an employee of your district NOT a State employee. The only DSEA members who are considered state employees are those working in special schools or those who are Public Health Nurses (not in schools). So the governor's announcement has little to no bearing on those who are district employees," DSEA President Stephanie Ingram wrote.
The governor's office confirms that.
It's unclear how many of the state's educators are vaccinated. A spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Education said they don't have access to personal health information.
The governor has also issued a universal mask mandate in schools and state buildings, regardless of a person's vaccination status, that goes into effect Monday, August 16, 2021.
"The best way to get to a place where we can have greater freedom to be without masks and to live life as we normally have, this is the best way to do it. Vaccines work, and they'll help us keep our children in school with in-person instruction, they'll help us keep open, and protect the vulnerable," said Carney.
As of Wednesday, August 11, 73.9% of Delaware adults, and 71.8% of those 12 and older, have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Visit de.gov/getmyvaccine to find a free COVID-19 vaccination provider near you.