UNC Medical Center sees increase in COVID-19 cases among employees

North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Over the last couple of months, UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 cases among staff – officials said many of those individuals are not vaccinated.

According to data released by UNC Health, there were 19 new positive cases among employees last week.

There are currently 29 people who are out who tested are positive, and another 44 who are out for other COVID-related reasons, such as exposure to a known positive.

UNC Health officials said during the first week of June, for the first time since the pandemic began, they had no new positive cases among employees.

But they said that number has been climbing steadily since then.

“We are definitely seeing more and more positive employees, many of them not vaccinated,” said Dr. Erica Pettigrew, occupational health director for UNC Medical Center.

CBS 17 asked how many of the employees who tested positive are vaccinated, but we are still waiting to hear back.

Pettigrew said the increase in positive cases is leaving them short-staffed.

She said the increase in spread from the delta variant was a big part of UNC Health’s decision to require their employees to get the vaccine by Sept. 21.

“We need to protect our patients and our community as best we can,” Pettigrew said.

Right now, 28 percent of UNC Health employees are not fully vaccinated.

Since UNC Health announced vaccines are required, 650 of these employees have rolled up their sleeves and got their first dose.

However, that is out of roughly 10,000 employees who officials said may not be fully vaccinated yet. If these employees do not comply with the mandate, they could lose their jobs.

This vaccine mandate comes as UNC Health is already facing a staffing shortage, as more than 1,500 jobs within UNC Health are vacant.

CBS 17 asked UNC Health if there is a concern, they could lose employees who decide not to get this vaccine when they are already experiencing a staffing shortage.

“Overall, the vaccine policy, the condition of employment is really going to help staffing more than hurt it,” Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew said this mandate will keep more employees healthy and help mitigate the times they have to quarantine people.

“We absolutely do not want to lose the nurses, in any way,” Pettigrew said. “Really what this new policy does, is we want people to discuss their personal situation with their providers. We hope that they will be able to get vaccinated.”

Pettigrew said employees may qualify for medical and religious exemptions, and she said they expect a majority of employees to comply with this mandate.

“They absolutely have the right to refuse, but we need to make a decision for our hospital, our patients and our co-workers, and the decision was that we need everyone to be vaccinated who can be safely vaccinated,” Pettigrew said.

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