Hennepin County is dropping a COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirement for its nearly 9,000 employees.

The county started the mandate in August 2021, and employees had to show proof of vaccination by Oct. 1 of last year.

About 330 people were approved for an accommodation and tested weekly instead of being vaccinated, according to the county. Fully 98% of all employees completed a vaccination series. Aug. 24 was the last day of the requirement.

Staff members who choose not to be vaccinated weren't penalized, but they were required to comply with the testing requirements and other alternative infection control measures deemed necessary by the county for workplace safety.

A handful of employees didn't comply with the mandate and faced discipline, including termination. The vaccine mandates have been a polarizing political issue since the vaccine rollout, with some Republicans strongly against them. Health officials have said the mandates are the best way to protect employees and the public from COVID-19.

"The safety of staff and residents during the pandemic is a top priority for Hennepin County," said county spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan. "As the pandemic has evolved, Hennepin County has continuously adapted its policies consistent with current public health guidance."

The county also canceled the vaccine requirement for its thousands of volunteers in July.

While COVID-19 continues to circulate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently rolled back some of its COVID-19 guidelines, Marinan said. The county's decision to end its COVID-19 vaccination policy reflects these new guidelines, she said.

County directors, managers and supervisors received an email from County Administrator David Hough about the end of the mandate last month.

Only staff who are subject to federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccination regulations will be required to be vaccinated or be approved for an accommodation, he said.

Human resources will work to resolve any pending employment actions related to non-compliance with testing requirements, he said.

While COVID-19 continues to circulate, Hough said the CDC noted there is significantly less risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death now compared to earlier in the pandemic. According to the CDC, 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, from being either vaccinated or infected, according to Hough's email.

Hough added that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rolled back its guidance to employers on workplace testing requirements in July.