The Gainesville City Commission unanimously passed a three-part plan proposed by Commissioner Harvey Ward to fight the COVID-19 Omicron variant. The commissioners plan on using $300,000 of previously allocated American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for at-home testing kits.
At their first meeting of 2022 Thursday, city commissioners, with City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker absent, voted to keep Gainesville workers safe from rising COVID-19 cases in the county.
Mayor Lauren Poe said the Omicron variant is very present within Gainesville workers, citing a huge spike in cases among city staff members.
There were 2,072 new positive cases in Alachua County since Dec. 31, according to the Alachua County COVID-19 Dashboard.
Ward proposed the plan to provide a solution for the lack of available at-home COVID-19 tests and to encourage Gainesville workers to get tested for COVID-19.
The plan provided every vaccinated city worker $250 and two COVID-19 at-home test kits. It also included a request to UF President Kent Fuchs from the mayor to reinstate UF’s Screen, Test and Protect program.
“What I'm trying to achieve is to incentivize city workers to be vaccinated, simple as that,” Ward said. “I want our city workers healthy.”
Ward originally wanted to mail the test kits to city workers. City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos and City Commissioner Reina Saco argued mailing kits would be costly and ineffective.
“I think we can leave that up to staff to figure out what's the best way to get that [test kits] to employees,” Hayes-Santos said.
Ward advocated for mail-in testing kits to avoid judgment in the workplace, fearing that employees would feel judged for requesting a kit or wouldn't take one due to this same fear.
After some debate, the measure was changed to “two kits be provided to every city worker” instead of mailing them.
The commissioners also added the phrase “one-time $250 payment” to the first part of the measure after some public commentary on terminology confusion.
However, Poe said he wanted to leave the term “fully vaccinated” open-ended so city staff could determine if that means two shots or three shots.
Despite their disagreement, the city commission compromised to take quick action with the Omicron variant.
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Melanie Peña is a second-year business and journalism major. When she's not designing a graphic or writing an article, she's probably making jewelry or exploring coffee shops in Gainesville.