‘A serious mistake’: State leaders reaffirm opposition to vaccine mandate as additional details released

ST. GEORGE — In the wake of specifics regarding President Joe Biden’s promised vaccine mandate for private sector workers dropping Thursday morning, Utah’s top elected leaders issued joint statements reiterating their opposition to it.

In this July 9, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden is seen speaking in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. | Associated Press photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration shared specifics of the mandate on YouTube on Thursday, stating that 84 million private sectors workers will have a measure of protection from COVID-19 as they are either vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

“The nation’s unvaccinated workers face grave danger from workplace exposure to coronavirus, and immediate action is necessary to protect them,” the Labor Department stated in a press release.

The mandate requires private businesses of 100 employees or more to have their employees compliant with the new workplace rule by Jan. 4. Companies must also maintain records of who is vaccinated and who is not.

Other requirements include employers providing paid time off for employees to get vaccinated, as well as sick time if those employees need time off to recover from vaccine side effects.

While employees can requests vaccination exemptions for medical and religious reasons, they will be required to wear face masks and submit to regular testing for the virus.

Companies that do not comply with the mandate could face thousands of dollars in fines.

This March 2021 file photo shows syringes filled with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up site in the Queens borough of New York | Associated Press file photo by Mary Altaffer, St. George News

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.

“We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the mandate could impact up to 65% of Utah’s labor force.

Following the release of the mandate’s details and deadline, Utah Senate President J. Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, Attorney General Sean Reyes and State Auditor John Dougall issued the following statement:

The mandate the Biden administration issued is a blatant attempt to exceed well-established limitations on federal authority and infringes upon the rights of private businesses and employees. Biden continues to be tone-deaf to a majority of Americans who oppose mandates.

Utahns have made it clear they expect the state to oppose this heavy-handed overreach, and each of us will act in our capacities to do so. We will not stand down while Biden disregards the rights of the people and we will continue to stand for civil liberties and freedom in our state.

Gov. Spencer Cox has previously stated he does not support a federal vaccine mandate yet does support the rights of a private business right to require employees to be vaccinated.

Both Cox and Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson also released a joint statement Thursday concerning the mandate going into effect.

The President’s vaccine mandate for businesses is a serious mistake. It’s outside the authority of the federal government and, as public health experts have pointed out, it is likely to exacerbate and broaden public resistance to all vaccines, which may outweigh any marginal benefit in terms of increased population immunity.

We continue to strongly encourage Utahns to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones, and to protect the hospital capacity that we all use. The vaccines are a miracle of science and represent the best way to end the pandemic, but a federal mandate is heavy-handed overreach that will harden vaccine resistance and polarization. Workplace vaccination and testing policies should remain firmly the prerogative of business owners. We’re committed to fighting the mandate through every possible avenue.

The state of Utah plans to battle the mandate through a potential multistate lawsuit that Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes joined in September.

In this February 2017 file photo, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes looks on during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

In a letter sent to the president by the attorneys general of 24 states, including Utah, they argue that the mandate may do more harm than good. It highlighted concerns that threatening to fire people if they do not get the vaccine will not only serve to raise vaccine skepticism but also threaten to strain “an already-too-tight labor market, burdening companies and (therefore) threatening the jobs of even those who have received the vaccine.”

On the federal level, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee has put his support behind an effort in the Senate to block vaccine mandate funding.

“We don’t punish people for diverging from presidential orthodoxy,” Lee wrote in a Tweet on Wednesday. “That’s why I am proud to sign this letter with Senator Marshall to defund President Biden’s mandate.”

At the local level, the Washington County Commission passed a resolution in August that reaffirmed the county government’s stance against federal or state-mandated community shutdowns and vaccination mandates.

During the commission meeting in which the resolution passed, Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, voiced overall support for vaccinations yet called government mandates a roadblock to the health department’s goal of educating the public about the vaccines.

“Often and almost always, it’s too much government interference in that process that doesn’t further that (goal) but makes it much more difficult,” he said.

Blodgett said an argument could be made that the more the government pushes an issue, such as it did with face masks, the more energy people spend resisting it rather than learning why something potentially beneficial to them and others may not be a such a bad idea.

While the federal mandate presently impacts businesses of 100 or more employees, according to the 409-page emergency temporary standard issued by OSHA on Thursday, the agency states it is “soliciting stakeholder comment and additional information to determine whether to adjust the scope of the ETS to address smaller employers in the future.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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