Amid delta outbreak, will Northampton County Prison’s partial employee vaccine mandate help stop the spread?

Written by on September 21, 2021

Amid delta outbreak, will Northampton County Prison’s partial employee vaccine mandate help stop the spread?

By Tyler Pratt

September 21, 2021

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 
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A COVID-19 delta variant outbreak at the Northampton County Prison (NCP) is raising questions about vaccine mandates. The county reported on Sept. 21 that numbers dropped to 21 cases among inmates and staff, down from more than 30 positive cases on Sept. 17 when nearly half the jail’s blocks were in quarantine. 

To date there have been nearly 230 cases in the jail. 

County Executive Lamont McClure said most cases are among the unvaccinated.

Northampton was one of the first counties in Pennsylvania to return to a high rate of COVID transmission over the summer. 

Thomas Weber is the chief executive officer at PrimeCare Medical, the health care provider for roughly half of the state’s county jails, including NCP. 

“Once you see an uptick in your community, you can expect in two to three weeks it’s going to find its way into the facility,” Weber said. 

County officials recently ordered all outside vendor staff to be vaccinated to enter the jail. Weber’s employees are affected by this order. 

“Our staff there [has a higher vaccination rate] than in other facilities,” Weber said. “I do know of some personnel that are adamant in their anti-vax position.”

Weber said he is a vaccine advocate, but isn’t ordering his employees to get shots, instead providing education and even cash incentives. He worries forcing people to get vaccinated could mean some refuse and quit. 

“The risks from being short-staffed and not having access to our patients is greater at this time than COVID is itself,” Weber said

The recent mandate doesn’t apply to the Northampton County’s corrections officers, more than 60% of whom are unvaccinated. They were offered $500 dollars each to get the shots instead of a mandate.

“The security staff is larger than our staff, so depending on their rates, the success of this program is limited by the inability to ensure we get a 100% vaccination rate,” Weber said. 

Weber says he is complying with the county’s order, but says he may have to shuffle staff between jails and hopes it doesn’t hinder other services they provide, like mental health therapies and addiction treatment. 

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