Republican Will County Board members question COVID-19 vaccine executive order

Democratic members decry spread of vaccine misinformation, urge residents to get vaccinated

Republican Will County Board members questioned President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring millions of workers to get vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19, and how it would affect county employees.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s Legislative and Judicial Committee meeting, member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said she was concerned about “mandates being pushed.”

“There are some people who simply for their own personal reasons do not feel right in taking the vaccines,” she said.

Ogalla suggested the executive order could make finding employees more difficult because they may not want to get vaccinated. In an interview after the meeting, she likened the policy to “discrimination,” which could lead to punishment for unvaccinated workers.

Member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, also blasted Biden and Gov. JB Pritzker for their executive orders related to mask-wearing and vaccines to combat the pandemic.

“It seems like the entire country now is based on dictatorships where the governor does the executive order and that’s the law,” Balich said.

Board Speaker Mimi Cowan, D-Naperville, warned her colleagues against spreading misinformation and pointed out the federal executive order allows workers at large companies to be tested for COVID-19 if they don’t get vaccinated. She said no vaccine mandate would be implemented in the county.

“To continue to speak about that publicly as if it’s a legit and real thing is frankly quite dangerous,” Cowan said. “I think we need to rely on facts and data here.”

The Will County Board Democratic Caucus reiterated the need to get vaccinated in a news release published shortly after the meeting ended on Tuesday.

Ogalla later said she was not asserting that county employees would be fired if they wouldn’t get vaccinated, but that some had that fear. She said she brought up the issue so that county officials could make the policy clear for its employees.

As for how the county would implement Biden’s order, spokesman Mike Theodore said discussion was still in its early stages. Theodore said the county did not know how many of its approximately 2,300 employees are vaccinated, but it would have to ask for that information at some point.

He added that the county was awaiting federal guidance about how to implement Biden’s executive order.

Pritzker’s previous executive order already mandated vaccinations or regular testing for health care workers which affected county employees at its health department and Sunny Hill Nursing Home.

Cindy Jackson, the Will County Health Department’s director of mass vaccination, said her agency is planning on beginning the regular testing of unvaccinated workers next week.

About 54.5% of Will County’s nearly 700,000 residents are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

For more information, including where to find the nearest vaccine clinic, visit willcountyhealth.org.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.