Travis County leaders butt heads on COVID-19 paid sick leave extension

Coronavirus

FILE – A doctor loads a dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at a mobile vaccination clinic in Worcester, Mass. In January 2022, an influential government advisory panel is considering COVID-19 boosters for younger teens, as the U.S. battles the omicron surge and schools struggle with how to restart classes amid the spike. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners had passionate back and forth Tuesday during a discussion on whether the 80 additional hours of sick leave county employees were previously granted to deal with COVID-19 should be allowed to be used into the new year.

All five members of the court agreed there should be an extension, but county leadership butted heads about who should have access to the extra hours and when.

Judge Andy Brown argued the county was throwing money out the window by not doing everything in its power to incentivize staff to get vaccinated and argued the county should only allow the hours to be used by people who are fully vaccinated. He reported that to date the county had already spent more than $7 million paying out health insurance claims on COVID-19-related care.

“It’s frankly arguably the only tool we have to get people vaccinated,” Brown said. “We live in Texas so I think that we need to look at everything that we can do to encourage vaccinations.”

Meanwhile, commissioners Jeff Travillion and Brigid Shea argued more time should be given for county employees who are not vaccinated to get their shot before deciding to take action against them.

“I realize that it’s frustrating, I realize that it costs a lot, but what hangs in the balance is life,” Travillion said. “I know that we can argue that they should have, but if they haven’t yet I want to take every opportunity to continue to educate them.”

After intense discussion, commissioners decided to table the conversation about who will get the hours and extended the timeline in which all county staff can continue to use the previously granted sick leave until Feb. 8, regardless of vaccination status. At that point, staff will bring back suggestions on ways to use the hours as an incentive to get vaccinated.

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