Ask Us: Will Biden’s vaccine mandate apply to police, firefighters, local government?

Published 2:27 pm Monday, November 15, 2021

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

A reader asked if the recent federal vaccine mandate and testing requirement from President Joe Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration applies to public safety workers, including police, firefighters, EMS and dispatchers.

The emergency temporary standard announced Nov. 4 applies specifically to workers covered by federal OSHA standards. The standard, if allowed to go into effect, requires companies with at least 100 employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing. That includes a combined count of employees at every location of a company.

OSHA issued its vaccine mandate on Nov. 4, but courts have issued a stay preventing it from going into effect.

According to OSHA, the standard would not apply to state and local governments without state plans. Because North Carolina has a state plan, the OSHA standard would apply to state and local government employers that meet the 100-employee threshold. This would also include include school districts who meet the employee threshold.

Locally, the standard would apply to larger governments such as Rowan County and Salisbury, but it wouldn’t impact the area’s small towns. It would apply to Rowan-Salisbury Schools as well as Kannapolis City Schools, too.

The standard also applies to most private sector employers with more than 100 employees.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt has been critical of the standard, describing it as government overreach.

N.C. Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson, who has been vaccinated and encourages people to get the vaccine, said the mandate will strain existing resources within the state’s Occupational Safety And Health Division and exacerbate the state’s workforce crisis.

The state, however, is technically not allowed to adopt less stringent protections than those mandated federally.

OSHA gave states with their own worker protection programs 15 days to respond to the standard. But the judge’s ruling stopping the mandate came days after the mandate was introduced.

Many large employers have already implemented vaccine mandates. Health care providers have largely implemented or begun implementing vaccine requirements already, including Novant Health. The nonprofit fired more than 150 workers for not getting vaccinated.

There are currently no state-level mandates and Governor Roy Cooper has told reporters he would prefer voluntary buy in on vaccination and COVID-19 precautions.

For more information on the federal mandate, visit osha.gov/coronavirus/ets2/.