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Elected officials consider vaccine mandates for village, library, park staffs

Vaccine mandates aren’t currently in place for employees at Homewood and Flossmoor village halls, parks and libraries but they could be in the future.

The spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus led Gov. J.P. Pritzker on Aug. 26 to require mask mandates when in indoor spaces, and for some, like teachers and healthcare workers, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

All Illinois residents over the age of 12 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and proof of immigration status is not required to receive the vaccine. Three different vaccines are available from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech. The Food and Drug Administration has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. The other two vaccines have emergency use authorization.

President Biden signed an order Thursday, Sept. 9, mandating that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated. In addition, the president is asking the Department of Labor to set a regulation that businesses with 100 or more employees mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for those with medical or religious exemptions.

School, village, library and park administrators say they are following guidelines and mandates from the Illinois State Board of Education, the Cook County and Illinois Departments of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The village of Homewood “is not mandating vaccinations at this time, except for paramedics as required by the governor’s order for health care providers,” Jim Marino, village manager, said in an employee update memo. The village plans to “continue evaluating mandating vaccinations, booster shots and testing for unvaccinated employees and may do so in the future, if necessary.”

The memo noted all new hires will need to show proof of vaccination, and vaccinated employees are required to submit proof of vaccination by Sept. 16.

Flossmoor Village Manager Bridget Wachtel said the village “is not mandating the vaccine. We will follow the governor’s executive orders as we proceed through COVID and any impact they may have on our organization and service delivery. This is consistent with our approach since the start of the pandemic. We continue to encourage not only our staff but the public to receive the vaccine as it is the best known method to mitigate the detrimental impacts of the virus.”

The Homewood-Flossmoor Park District is considering a mandate and asked its attorney to review a new policy that would require all employees to be vaccinated. During discussion at the Sept. 7 board meeting, commissioners decided that as a health and wellness agency it was essential for staff to be vaccinated.

Debbie Kopas, parks executive director, said most full-time employees are already vaccinated. Initially, presenting proof of vaccination meant staffers didn’t have to wear masks. The option is now off the table as the park district complies with the governor’s mask mandate in indoor spaces.

If the park board goes ahead with a vaccine mandate, Kopas said there could be issues with part-time staff. She anticipated that some may leave their positions rather than comply. That could impact some programs, but board members said they wanted to move forward.

The Chronicle reported that the Homewood Public Library board was discussing a vaccine mandate at its Aug. 18 meeting. Director Colleen Waltman said she is aware of 25 staff who presented proof of vaccination so they would not need to wear masks. That was prior to the governor reimposing a mask mandate. The library board will again consider a vaccine mandate at its Sept. 15 meeting.

At the Flossmoor Public Library, 93% of the staff is vaccinated, so the board hasn’t taken up the issue, said Jamie Paicely, library director.

Homewood District 153’s Homewood Education Association, representing teachers and staff, approved a memo of understanding with the District 153 school board on vaccine mandates or weekly testing for those with medical and religious exemptions. Superintendent Scott McAlister has called the decision another step “for the safety of everyone.” The agreement was reached before the governor’s vaccine mandate for school workers.

Flossmoor District 161 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School administrators are following the ISBE mandate for vaccination or testing for those who will not be vaccinated.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include information from the village of Flossmoor.

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