Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday, Aug. 5, to correctly identify Nazneen Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice.
On the heels of a new executive order requiring state employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or be required to wear a mask and submit to weekly testing, Gov. Roy Cooper is urging other members of the Council of State to push their own staffs to get vaccinated.
“I’m asking you to push these vaccinations as hard as you can to people,” said Cooper, a Democrat, at a Council of State meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3. “It’s the very best way to improve our economy and to move us forward is to get this pandemic behind us. We do it by getting people vaccinated.”
“You all are public figures,” Cooper added. “You’re really important people out there. People listen to you. This not only can save the life of someone you’re talking to, it can also save the life of people they come in contact with.”
Carolina Journal reached out to the nine Council of State members and asked whether their offices intended to make any changes in light of Cooper’s executive order. These are their responses:
- Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt (Republican): “While the governor is requiring vaccination status of employees, the superintendent will not. Instead, she will allow for employees to voluntarily disclose this information using an attestation form. Employees who voluntarily share their vaccination status won’t need to wear masks inside the building. With all employees slated to return on a three-day basis beginning next week, she hopes to make the workplace safe and comfortable for everyone. The superintendent will not require vaccinated employees to wear masks,” said spokeswoman Blair Rhoades.
- Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler (Republican): “We are in discussions about the announcement, but no decision has been made this time. Commissioner Troxler has been a strong advocate for vaccination since day one and actively encourages people to get vaccinated,” said spokeswoman Andrea Ashby.
- Attorney General Josh Stein (Democrat): “Attorney General Stein appreciates the governor’s continued leadership, and he is reviewing public health guidelines and considering additional actions to help protect [Department of Justice] employees,” said spokeswoman Nazneen Ahmed.
- State Auditor Beth Wood (Democrat): “We are in the process of reviewing Governor Cooper’s latest recommendations regarding COVID-19. Currently, we have a hybrid work policy in place that addresses the business needs of the office, and we are evaluating the policy as the situation evolves,” said spokeswoman Christine Ryan.
- Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson (Republican): “At this time, Commissioner Dobson does not intend to require vaccination or mandatory testing for [Department of Labor] employees. The Commissioner believes in the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and encourages all employees to get the vaccine. However, he is also sensitive to individual liberty and recognizes that the decision to get the vaccine is a personal health matter,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Haigwood.
- Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey (Republican): “We have no plans to implement any changes to our Safe Return to the Worksite Plan at this time. We will continue to assess the COVID-19 pandemic to see if any changes are necessary in the future to protect the safety and health of our valued employees and visitors,” said spokesman Barry Smith.
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Republican), Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (Democrat), and State Treasurer Dale Folwell (Republican) did not respond.
The vaccine mandate for state employees begins in September. According to the latest data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, 47% of the population is fully vaccinated, including 84% of those in the high-risk category of being over the age of 65.