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OSHA vaccination rule on hold as Florida ready opposition

Virus Outbreak US
Lynne Sladky
FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2021, file photo, a healthcare worker receives a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The number of Americans getting COVID-19 vaccines has steadily increased to a three-month high as seniors and people with medical conditions seek boosters, and government and employer mandates push more workers to take their first doses.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans has temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s new vaccine rule for large employers from moving forward. The three judge panel ruled on Saturday.

The three judge panel issued the stay against the rule, saying there may be “grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate.” The rule — from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — is set to fully take effect on Jan. 4.

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin; and your refusal has cost all of us,” said the president to those refusing vaccination. “This is not about freedom or personal choice; it’s about protecting yourself and those around you. If you want to work for the federal government and do business with us – get vaccinated.”

The rule applies to employers with 100 or more employees and those working at health care facilities. They’ll have to show proof that they’ve received at least one dose by Dec. 5 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. Those not complying will be required to test negative at least once a week.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said, repeating a long-time mantra. “All employers with 100 or more employees, that together employ over 80 million workers, to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated.”

“We’re currently reviewing the rules released by CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services]; which is different from the requirements for businesses with 100 or more employees,” said Jacklyn Kovac at Santa Rosa Medical Center in Milton in a prepared statement. “And we appreciate the cooperation of our team in what has been a challenging time for everyone in health care.”

Kovac added that the work with CMS is continuing, as is in-house compliance.

“The majority of our caregivers have already chosen to be vaccinated, and more are making that choice now,” she said. “We’ve implemented routine COVID-19 testing of any of our unvaccinated hospital and clinic staff; we started that in September to ensure the safety of our patients, colleagues and others.”

One of the differences in the rules between larger firms and health care centers, is that most of the latter accept Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Navy Federal Credit Union – one of the Pensacola area’s largest employers – did not provide anyone for an interview. In a written statement, the firm said its vaccine policy “remains in effect” — giving employees the choice of vaccinations, or regular testing. ST Engineering did not return emails seeking comment.

Carbon Health, with locations in Mobile, Alabama and downstate in Florida near Hialeah and Davie, has produced a video with its chief medical officer, Dr. Sanjil Mandavia, who says there are OSHA requirements and tips for keeping the workforce safe.

“Employers are required to provide training to employees about the basics of COVID-19 – including common symptoms, the importance of social distancing, masks and hand-washing, [and] not coming into work when sick,” said Mandavia in a video produced by Carbon Health. “And the benefits they’re entitled to under state and federal law.”

Employers must assist in physical distancing on the job; third, COVID-relate hazards should be identified and corrected.

“These include interactions, activities, equipment, and materials that could potentially expose employees,” Mandavia said. “Employers should have a written plan; this plan should inform employees on how to report positive cases, how the employer will comply with the rules, and when testing is mandated.”

It’s a scary thought, says Mandavia, of COVID possibly being in the workplace. He points to some key steps to follow.

“Make sure you have a process in place to make sure you know of any exposure;” he said. “Give written notice of potential exposure to all employees and contractors who are president, within one day of learning of the case. Offer testing to potentially exposed employees at no cost during working hours.”

And perhaps most importantly, Mandavia says, do not allow employees testing positive back on the job, until return-to-work requirements are met.

The OSHA vaccine rule is adding fuel to a debate which will be on display in Florida during a special legislative session next week called by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Florida will contest that immediately; they do not have the authority to unilaterally impose this through an executive agency like OSHA,” the governor said.

DeSantis, who’s already suing the Biden administration over mandatory vaccines for federal contractor personnel, laid out his opposition to the new rule while speaking in Jacksonville last week.

“They’re saying this is an imminent danger, there’s got to be an emergency rule — these people have been working for a year and a half,” he said. “It took them six weeks to write the rule and it doesn’t go into effect until January? They’re abusing emergency power to be able to do what they would not be able to get through the Congress.”

DeSantis is among Republican governors, lawmakers and attorneys general who are forming a wall of opposition to the president’s plan. He told supporters that he sees no constitutional basis for it.

“At what point does the federal government have the limit to their power, if they can just go ahead and impose this on the entire private economy through an executive fiat?" DeSantis said. "That’s not the way our constitutional system is set up. So Florida will be responding, and I think the rule’s going down.”

At least 24 Republican-led states have already taken action against the OSHA vaccine mandate. At this point, Florida is not among them, but as they say in this business, stay tuned.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.