North Charleston City Hall | Photo by Ryan Johnson

“The recent surge … has further heightened a compelling interest in preventing the spread”

The City of North Charleston became the first municipal government in the state Wednesday to announce it will mandate its 1,101 workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

State and local governments are some of the largest employers in Charleston and South Carolina generally. But until now, the main local employers to mandate vaccines for workers have been public and private-sector health care organizations and the U.S. military.

State Municipal Association officials say North Charleston is the first local government, to their knowledge, to mandate employee vaccines.

Charleston County Council has called a special meeting Thursday to consider a similar measure, according to an agenda posted online.

Mayor Keith Summey said Wednesday the recent surge in cases “further heightened a compelling interest” to take steps to stop the spread of the virus.

“To achieve and maintain a workplace that is free from this known health and safety hazards the city is adopting a mandatory vaccination policy to protect our employees and their families, as well as the citizens, vendors and visitors we serve,” Summey said.

Employees, volunteers and interns must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 5, according to Summey’s executive order. Requests for exemptions, which include medical and religious accommodations, must be submitted by Sept. 20.

North Charleston’s city limits stretch across the metro area’s three counties, each boasting a higher full-vaccination rate than South Carolina as a whole. But in recent weeks, as cases have spiked, Dorchester County has seen the highest rate of infections in the state, according to New York Times analysis.

North Charleston’s 1,101 employees may be a small percentage of the total local workforce. But combined, local county, school district and municipal governments account for thousands more. Charleston County School District alone accounts for about 5,900 employees, according to Charleston County.

A City of Charleston spokesman told City Paper last week that city staff was “considering all options” for possible recommendations to Mayor John Tecklenburg.

MUSC, Roper St. Francis Healthcare, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Joint Base Charleston have all announced plans for vaccine requirements.

Major private-sector employers like Boeing South Carolina, Trident Health System, Bosch and Mercedes-Benz Vans have not taken steps to mandate vaccines, but many say they encourage employees to do so. Walmart, which county figures show employs some 2,300 locally, has mandated vaccines for its corporate office workers, but not its retail employees.