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Sisolak orders mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for some state workers

Updated September 14, 2021 - 1:39 pm

CARSON CITY – Acting on a unanimous recommendation from the state Board of Health, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday ordered mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all Department of Corrections employees and those working with at-risk populations in state-operated detention and health care facilities.

The emergency regulation is effective Nov. 1 and will remain in effect for 120 days.

The governor, in a statement, said he was “grateful to the Board of Health” for passing the regulation and also thanked his health department and the team of medical advisers he appointed to guide the state’s pandemic response who authored it.

At approximately 43 percent, the vaccination rate among corrections workers lags the state’s overall rate by 10 percentage points, according to state data. More than 1,100 prison employees have tested positive for COVID-19 out of a force of approximately 2,700 and three have died; 4,537 prisoners have tested positive for the virus and 49 have died.

Sisolak in July called the low vaccination rate among corrections staff “atrocious.” The governor ordered all state workers to be vaccinated or submit to regular weekly testing starting Aug. 15.

Health department facilities that receive federal Medicaid or Medicare must have employees vaccinated under requirements President Joe Biden announced last week.

Corrections workers largely spoke out against the requirement when the Board of Health approved it 4-0 Friday. Union president Paul Lunkwitz told the board it would lead to worse understaffing at prisons and higher overtime costs.

In December, prison administrators told state officials that some corrections staff would rather quit than be forced to get a vaccine.

The emergency regulation also applies to workers in 12 state institutions, including adult and youth psychiatric facilities and juvenile detention facilities, that house or work with vulnerable groups.

Those seeking a religious or medical exemption may be placed on administrative leave or temporarily reassigned while the request is considered.

“The Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Corrections have provided contingency plans for staffing with this, if there is mass resignations or people that are asked to leave due to their insubordination,” DuAne Young, Sisolak’s policy director, told the board at its Friday meeting.

However, Young said other states have not seen mass resignations following similar requirements. He said he believes those employed to “serve the public” will eventually agree to the vaccinations.

“Their sense of duty to that I believe will allow them to rise to the occasion and do the right thing,” he said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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