And here was the August Enfield discussion of Vaccines
My Body, My Job, My Choice?
Enfield, Board, Split on Employee Vaxx Mandate
Posted by Robert Lynch, August 24, 2021
There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy
There’s only you and me and we just disagree….
“We Just Disagree;” Dave Mason took it to #12 in 1977.
A hypothetical: I’m Bob. I work daily beside “Joe,” who is vaccinated; and “Sam,” who is not. Three days ago, Joe and Sam attended a super-spreader party, where a fourth person, “Leo,” littered COVID-19 liberally around the room, germs inhaled equally by both Joe and Sam. I’ve never met Leo. I didn’t go to his party. But are my two co-workers now equally likely to contract COVID? And even more important, are they now equally likely to give it to me?
That, in a nutshell, is the question dividing lawmakers—and maybe also residents—in the Town of Enfield.
Let me stop before I travel further. I, your author and Town Councilperson, agonized incessantly in scripting this essay. These words almost never wandered beyond my keyboard. The Town Board discussion that prompted this writing took place Wednesday, August 11th. I’m posting my thoughts a full thirteen days later, not exactly timely reporting. Trust me, this composition lived through many iterations. And it survived its share of editors. Though initially scripted as a news story, I denied it that first life for lack of credibility. I simply stood too close to the story to provide my subject the objective treatment that journalistic standards demand. Rather, here, I morphed real-time reporting into an essay; a subjective—maybe a bit biased—statement of opinion; namely, mine.
But secondly, in writing this piece, I concluded I’d first treated some of this story’s protagonists—persons both in and out of Town Government—a bit too harshly. We on the Enfield Town Board must cooperate with one another and accept each other’s divergent opinions. Moreover, we must each acknowledge that maybe we, not others, stand in error. In this instance, the science that drives the prevention and containment of the coronavirus evolves daily. On Town Board meeting night, and even now, I believe I stood and still stand on solid factual footing; on the side of prevailing scientific thought. But will I still stand there one month from now? Or even one day from now? Only time will tell.
A prominent, well-known Enfield constituent contributed substantially to our debate that Wednesday night. I will not mention her name here. For the purposes of this essay, she deserves a bit of privacy. You can learn of her elsewhere.
All that said, let’s move on….
Background: On Tuesday, August 10th, the Tompkins County Legislature adopted a mandatory vaccination policy to govern its own government’s workforce. The County’s new rules require every one of its employees to vaccinate fully against COVID-19 by October 1st, or else subject themselves to frequent—probably weekly—testing at County expense. County lawmakers saw it as a nudge of sorts; a spur in the flank to prod the hesitant who draw checks from the County’s payroll clerk to put procrastination aside and get their life-saving vaccine. More importantly, the Legislature reasoned, the mandate would protect coworkers from infection.
In the stifling heat of Enfield’s Town Board meeting one night later, I cloned a homegrown equivalent:
“Resolved, that within two weeks of this Policy’s effective date, every Town officer, elected Office Holder, and employee of the Town of Enfield shall submit to the Town Supervisor or to that Supervisor’s designee, proof of vaccination [or proof that vaccinations have commenced, or that the employee is ineligible] and that…
“Should the said officer or employee either fail to submit such proof of vaccination or else refuse to submit to vaccination, that Officer or employee shall then be required to submit to weekly testing to document his or her lack of a COVID-19 infection.”
Maybe not the most elegant wordsmithing of my life, but I relied only upon my ingenuity and my passion. I am a committee of one, not many.
“I’m moving it for discussion purposes,” I qualified my submission to the Board that evening. “This was a starting point,” I said, “and by no means is [it] necessarily cast in stone.”
To me, at this stage in America’s ongoing pandemic wars, someone needed to guard the Homefront. The County Legislature imposed its mandate one day earlier. Why not Enfield? Now, my Enfield Town Board of five—actually four that night; Councilperson Virginia Bryant was excused—I invite you to take my words, slice and dice them as you choose, shred them to bits if you must. I welcome it. That, my friends and constituents, is what effective Democracy does.
“My idea did not go over well,” I wrote a key County legislative committee chair a few days later. Mind you, the County’s own, earlier mandate won legislative approval with little pushback. Only two of its many members dissented. But in those “wild western hills” of Enfield, as a consultant recently described our Town, a different attitude may predominate.
“You do know that vaccinated people can get infected with COVID and can transmit COVID nearly at the same rate that unvaccinated people can,” Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond rebutted my Resolution shortly after I’d placed it on the floor (and after she’d seconded it for argument’s sake.) “It doesn’t cause as much illness for the vaccinated person,” she acknowledged. But “the transmission rate has been deemed almost exactly the same,” Redmond asserted.
Huh? I’d never heard such a contrary assertion from any credible source. And I still haven’t. On its face, the Supervisor’s conclusion stands in direct conflict with evidence offered by both the Tompkins County Health Department’s Medical Director and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In that latter agency’s July 28th guidance, titled “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People,” CDC experts stated:
“Currently authorized vaccines in the United States are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to become infected and, if infected, to develop symptoms of COVID-19….”
The CDC’s advisory continued:
“Infections in fully vaccinated people (breakthrough infections) happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant.”
Briefing the County Legislature prior to its vote August 10th, County Health Department Medical Director Dr. William Klepack said his review of the data led him to conclude that a vaccinated person is “extremely unlikely to get infected,” and even less likely to become seriously ill or die. He put the infection probability at perhaps two in 1000.
But at least one constituent in the gallery at the Enfield Board’s sparsely-attended August 11th meeting, sided with Redmond’s assertion, and argued that her own evidence gained as a nurse pointed to the vaccine’s reducing only the severity of a person’s infection, not one’s susceptibility to catching the disease or transmitting it to others. She framed the issue as one of personal choice:
“People have to take care of themselves,” she said. “You cannot keep people safe. They have to be safe themselves.”
Moreover, as to the value of those weekly tests, our guest offered professional skepticism: “A test on Tuesday does not guarantee that someone’s not going to get COVID on Wednesday and give it to you on Thursday.”
True. But as Dr. Klepack counseled the Legislature, you have to balance benefits against cost. Daily testing costs too much. Monthly testing yields too little. There’s a Goldilocks principle at work here. And to turn our guest’s argument around, if that Tuesday test reveals an employee, indeed, carries COVID, then my coworker’s immediate isolation might spare my own lungs from injury those two days after; maybe even save my life later on.
Here’s how I, Councilperson Bob Lynch, put it to the Enfield Board—and to anyone else who stood within our meeting’s earshot that night:
“My bottom line is I want to make sure that anybody who interacts with the employees of the Town of Enfield can do so safely. Whether you’re buying a dog license, whether you’re arranging for a road culvert, whether you’re coming to a Town Board meeting, I want to make sure everybody stays safe.”
I wasn’t finished:
“I tell you, I’m drawing a line in the sand on this. And I know it may cost me some votes in the next election. But you know what? I’d rather it cost me a few votes than cost one townsperson his life.”
I still believe the words I spoke. Safety must come first. We are more than just a rabble of self-centered libertarians holding no thought for our neighbors’ health and safety. We are a community; one community. We are one Enfield. (Ever heard that phrase?) And unless and until someone convinces me that a vaccinated person is just as likely to catch and transmit COVID-19 as an unvaccinated one, I’ll play the vaccine mandate card. I’ve found the contrary argument proven nowhere—except maybe on the front cover of the National Enquirer I saw racked in the checkout aisle last weekend at Walmart.
I know of at least two people in Enfield who have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. At this writing, the overall Tompkins County death toll from COVID-19 stands at 33. Their lost lives weigh on my conscience. COVID cost us some of our neighbors. Let’s not lose any more.
But if privacy rights held one corner of the evening’s argument in Enfield, concern about testing’s cost held the other.
Supervisor Redmond questioned where the money for weekly COVID testing would come from. Purportedly only one Town employee—an unnamed member of the Highway Department’s five-person crew—has failed to vaccinate. And asymptomatic surveillance, we were told, costs employers $300 per test.
Why not tap our contingency fund, I asked. The fund’s nearly depleted, Redmond responded. “There’s nothing left in there,” she cautioned.
Then, with an air of doomsday pessimism, the Supervisor warned Enfield could soon find itself testing not just that one employee, but everybody.
“The other thing,” said Redmond, “is that we have Delta variants, which we all know is coming around and making even vaccinated people less likely to be protected.” The Supervisor continued, “And they’re saying the Lambda and Epsilon variants [that] are coming now are not covered by the vaccine at all. So, we’re all really at risk here. And are we all going to get weekly tested? Are we going to bill that to the Town? Where does this stop? We don’t have the money to be doing this. We just don’t.”
The two remaining attending members of the Enfield Board waited until the discussion’s end to speak. And both voiced caution. Councilperson James Ricks feared the policy could be “setting a dangerous precedent,” where first one person incurs the testing expense, and then it becomes “two or three or four people also.”
Councilperson Jude Lemke, at her turn, worried about forthcoming booster shots, inoculations recommended well after the Board’s meeting by federal authorities so as to supplement the original shots after eight months’ time.
“What if they come out and say you need a booster?” Lemke asked. “Now suddenly, are you going to pay for the booster?”
I counted noses. “I don’t think I’ve got the votes for it tonight,” I conceded. But again, that’s Democracy; majority rules. I agreed we needed a cooling-off moment; a time to regroup and allow fact to replace supposition. I requested—and secured—my motion’s tabling until September.
“I think we need to refine it,” I said of my proposal. “I think there’s some revision we ought to do on it. “Maybe we don’t want to do it at all.”
These are the wild western hills. And frankly, unless minds and hearts change considerably between now and September 8th—or some higher strata of government issues an edict—I’d wager that my Resolution’s most likely repository will be Enfield democracy’s dust bin. If so, then let it live there. The people’s representatives, no matter how indelicately their ranks have been filled lately, will have decided. Still, expect me to cast my own vote as conscience dictates.
I seek the truth, not a political win. Is the Supervisor right or am I? Does our nurse-attendee or does Dr. Klepack employ the best facts and draw the correct conclusion? I simply don’t know for sure. And until I do, I, too, hesitate.
On Friday, August 20th, I wrote Tompkins County’s Public Health Director, Frank Kruppa, summarizing our Board’s discussion. I quoted public comment. I asked pointed questions.
Citing the critical assertions aired at our Board’s meeting and contrasting them with the CDC’s late-July report, I wrote the Director, “I find no support for that position in the credible literature.” I continued:
“To draw this contrary conclusion would place the vaccinated population no safer from catching COVID than before vaccines became available. Vaccines would only prevent one from getting sicker and dying from the disease. If the stated suppositions prove accurate, they’d place the pandemic’s prevention in a whole different light.”
So, here we are. We counterbalance this Councilperson’s concern for coworker and constituent safety based on the science he’s been told is accurate, against the more skeptical view of those doubting Pfizer’s or Moderna’s ability to stave off a post-vaccination infection. Add to the debate a preference by some to save on buying test kits for the sake of balancing the budget.
One last nugget gleaned from our hot August session. While some in Enfield may be wary of the conclusions health officials have drawn, the Town’s Highway Superintendent, Barry (Buddy) Rollins, faults the Town in its penchant for frugality.
“You’re worried about money,” Rollins admonished the Town Board that night. “That don’t wash with me, either. The Town Board’s worried about money paying for it. The County already set a precedent. I don’t know about the other towns paying for it. So find the money somewhere.”
Remember: There ain’t no good guy; there ain’t no bad guy. There’s just you and me… and Enfield. Welcome home.