Tulare County Board of supervisors offers a day for ‘positivity’

Reggie Ellis

Board of supervisors approve pilot project to give an extra vacation day to employees who get tested four times in the next two months

TULARE COUNTY – The dirty secret of moving out of the state’s highest risk category for COVID infection rates and into lower, less restrictive tiers is to test healthy people and test them often.

It just so happens the entity who tracks that is one of the largest employers in Tulare County.

At its Nov. 3 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a pilot program incentivizing county employees to get a COVID test every two weeks in exchange for an additional day of vacation. To qualify for the additional eight hours of vacation time, county administrative officer Jason Britt said full-time employees would need to complete four tests between now and Dec. 28 with at least seven days between tests to be eligible for the additional personal holiday. Employees must then submit verification of the completed tests no later than Jan. 15, 2021. The only caveat is that the holiday must be taken prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2021.

“It isn’t called a pilot in the report but we wanted to see how it went through the end of the year,” Britt said.

With roughly 5,000 employees, Tulare County and its various departments rival the size of other major employers such as Kaweah Delta Health Care District and Ruiz Foods.

The number of tests administered in a county has become an increasingly important part of the state’s metrics to determine if what level of restrictions should be imposed. As of Nov. 3, Tulare County’s positivity rate, the number of positive test results divided by the number of tests given over a seven-day period, was 4.9% and its health equity positivity rate, based on the positivity rate in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods, was sitting at 8%. Both of these meet the metrics for Tulare County to move into the red tier of the Governor’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, of 5% and 8% respectively, as long as they can be maintained over a two-week period. More testing would also help the county reach the metric for the adjusted case rate, or the number of new cases per 100,000 people averaged over seven days, which is adjusted for the number of tests being given. As of Nov. 3, the county’s new case rate was 10 per 100,000 and would need to drop below 7 to move into the red tier.

The shift from the purple to red tier would mean schools can open for in-person instruction without waivers, retailers could allow up to 50% of their capacity, and indoor mall food courts and museums can reopen.

Britt said county employees will be allowed to schedule their testing during work hours as long as the time has been coordinated with their supervisor. He encouraged employees to use OptumServ community testing sites being rotated throughout the county. There is no cost for employees to get tested and the extra day off can be absorbed by the county budget. Britt also noted the current COVID test is far less invasive than those used over the summer and do not require the swab to be inserted deep into the nasal cavity.

Board chair Pete Vander Poel said he hoped the county taking this step would encourage other large employers to incentivize their employees to get tested as well.

“This is certainly one way we can help in achieving that red tier,” Vander Poel said.

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