Locals wait for more direction on Biden mandate
Despite an executive order from President Joseph Biden that all federal workers must get the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as people working for large employers, it’s uncertain how this could impact Nevada County.
Taylor Wolfe, public information officer with Nevada County, said the president’s COVID-19 plan would affect the county as an employer with over 100 employees.
“Although we continue to track this as it will impact our staff, there has not been any new information since President Biden announced it,” Wolfe said. “(The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is still developing this rule, and no Emergency Temporary Standard has been issued yet.”
What that means is because the county has received no official documentation from the federal government, it hasn’t yet implemented the directive.
Another large employer that would be affected by the new rule is the Nevada Irrigation District, which has 200 employees, said Tomi Riley, NID public information officer.
“We do look to (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) directives to be in compliance,” said Riley. “But we are still waiting for OSHA’s (Emergency Temporary Standard) to come out. I believe they’re in the process of developing an ETS. And we’re not seeing it, so that’s why were still in the waiting mode.”
Brett McFadden, superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union High School District, said that in August the California Department of Public Health issued a public health order that all school staff must get a vaccination by Oct. 15, or else be subjected to weekly testing for the coronavirus.
“Our assumption is that if any staff member did not comply with the public health order, then the district will not be in compliance,” he said, adding that any employee who declines to comply could potentially be subjected to disciplinary action.
Yessenia Anderson, public information officer for Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, said all of its physicians, employees and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Our compliance with California Department of Public Health also falls in line with President Biden’s recent COVID vaccine requirement,” she added.
Courtney Joslin is a professor of law at the University of California, Davis. She said long-standing law gives the federal government the authority to enforce health and safety standards in the workplace.
“Among the many OSHA regulations are rules that regulate harmful toxins in the workplace,” she said. “Acting under this authority, the Biden administration has set forth standards to keep workers safe from COVID-19 infection. It does so by requiring workers that work for large companies either be vaccinated, to test negative, or work remotely.”
Dorit Rubinstein Reiss is a professor of law at the UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco. She said that when first considered, the OSHA approach stands on strong legal grounds. However, this can be challenged. That’s because, in this instance, the administration’s goal is to increase vaccination rates, not workplace safety. Also, opponents could argue that such broad regulation extends beyond the power to regulate interstate commerce, which is the basis for federal power here.
“And probably the most important argument, the standard for issuing an emergency standard is a high one, and unless this standard is carefully tailored, it may not meet its requirements,” said Reiss. “It’s hard to say specifically if it will or not without seeing the standard — and the standard is not out yet.”
Alix Rogers, also a professor of law at UC Davis, said courts will agree vaccination and testing fall within the purview of OSHA’s authority.
“On a broader note, the case law, notably, Jacobsen v. Massachusetts, is clear that the government has the authority to mandate vaccination to protect the public health,” she said. “The case rejected objections over bodily integrity and also religious exemptions, and only recognizes medical exemptions.”
The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force led by the White House COVID-19 Response Team states that all federal executive branch employees must be fully vaccinated no later than Nov. 22, except in certain circumstances where an employee is entitled to reasonable accommodation.
The Task Force also said unvaccinated onsite contractors must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test no later than three days before entering a federal building.
Requirements are not likely to go into effect immediately since the Office of Management and Budget must publish details of the vaccine mandate in early October.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com
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