Employees of the Town of North Wilkesboro must receive a COVID-19 vaccine to remain eligible for unlimited sick leave and other pandemic-related benefits under a proposed update to the town’s personnel policy.

Town Manager Wilson Hooper told town commissioners during their Jan. 5 regular meeting that he recommended approval of the change, which would apply to all town employees except those with bona fide medical or religious exemptions.

“This approach keeps the vaccine voluntary but provides incentive to take it,” said Hooper. “The law permits us to make (the vaccine) compulsory but I’m not recommending that. This is a compromise approach that’ll make voluntary vaccinations more prevalent.”

Earlier this year, the town’s personnel policy was updated to include unlimited paid sick leave to employees in quarantine due to COVID-19. Hooper said, “Unlimited sick time is good for the organization and its employees because it reduces the risk of transmitting the virus.”

Hooper called the vaccine “the single most important tool we have” to abate the virus. “The vaccine in my opinion is like the quarterback in football—it’s the most important position on the field. You’ll never win games without a quarterback out there.”

Hooper said he would post a draft version of the proposed personnel policy and allow town employees to comment. Those comments would be shared with the board before the policy is voted on by the board, potentially at the board’s next meeting.

Commissioner Andrew Palmer said he would prefer to see an approach besides making the vaccine mandatory, explaining that some employees who are opposed to the vaccine might come to work, even though they had virus symptoms, because they’re not eligible for paid sick leave.

Police chiefs recognized

Also on Jan. 5, the board presented a plaque of recognition, a ceremonial firearm and a key to the town to retiring Police Chief Joe Rankin and swore in Rob Thornburg as the interim police chief.

Rankin served as the town’s police chief since 2010. January 4 was observed as Chief Joe R. Rankin Jr. Day in the town.

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