At the Thursday, August 19 meeting of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, Guilford County Manager Mike Halford announced a mandatory COVID-19 testing program that will apply to all Guilford County employees.

“Generally, many employees can exempt out if they are fully vaccinated,” Halford told the commissioners of the new plan.

“Some employees and some departments, because of the nature of their jobs, will see testing more frequently, or may be tested regardless of vaccination status,” Halford added.

The county has about 2,500 employees, and many of them – such as social workers and nurses – come in close contact with the public on a regular basis. 

Halford didn’t say which county employees may be tested more than others.

The county manager’s comments came on the heels of a report by the Guilford County Health Department on the spread of COVID-19 locally.  Most of the concern in Guilford County is now related to the new Delta variant of COVID-19.

Guilford County hasn’t implemented a mandatory vaccination or testing program before. However, the county has required masking for employees while indoors, just as many private sector companies have done.  Guilford County recently put that mandatory mask policy back in place for employees.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston has been an advocate of an aggressive response to the pandemic – some county residents say a “heavy-handed” one – by leading Guilford County, earlier this month, to be one of the quickest local governments in the state to implement a new countywide mask mandate, notably a mask mandate that wasn’t legal and isn’t enforceable.

In the Thursday night meeting, besides the employee testing program, no other new COVID-19 policies were discussed by the board – at least, not in the open session of the meeting that was viewable by the public.  The board did retreat not once, but twice, Thursday, into backroom meetings.  The second closed session lasted over an hour and a half.

Two speakers from the floor at the start of the August 19 meeting did address the board to express their dismay over the existing mask mandate for people who are indoors at public places. 

One speaker called for the Board of Commissioners to make an exception to the mandate for people who are engaging in strenuous exercise indoors.  He argued that the county’s current masking rule was destroying his small gym business.

Guilford County has quietly back-peddled on that mask mandate after discovering that parts of the hastily drawn up program weren’t legal.  The county is coming out with a new legally viable policy later this month but in the meantime some county officials want the public to believe that the illegal mandate is still in effect because they want citizens to wear masks.