Biden vax-test mandate covers government workers in Michigan

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Joe Biden

President Joe Biden talks about the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. U.S. health officials on Tuesday gave the final sign-off to Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opens a major expansion of the nation’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Biden administration’s requirement that many private-sector workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or, if their employers allow it, get tested weekly also applies to many of the roughly 586,000 government employees in Michigan.

That is because Michigan is one of 26 states to operate and enforce workplace safety rules instead of the U.S. government. Federal law requires those states with Occupational Safety and Health Administration-approved plans to cover state and local government workers, including school employees.

“Coverage of the public-sector employees in state plans like Michigan is one of the great advantages of having a state plan. In federal OSHA states, the public-sector employees do not have any OSHA protection,” said Jason Moon, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Michigan’s private and public employers with 100 or more workers must require them to get fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. Employers can instead adopt a policy mandating employees to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Unvaccinated workers also must wear masks starting no later than Dec. 5.

“Our members, by and large, have seen that it is not exactly a vaccine mandate. So they’re looking to what the testing protocols might look like for employees that opt-out and things like that,” said Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director for external relations at the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. “But we know at the association that the science points us toward vaccination and testing and masking being some of most effective tools to prevent the spread.”

A federal appeals court over the weekend paused the regulation from taking effect. The White House has expressed confidence that it can withstand legal challenges.

Michigan business groups that oppose the mandate said Tuesday they will help companies prepare to comply because the deadlines are nearing and it is unclear what will happen in the courts. Most businesses seem likely to pick the vaccinate-or-test option instead of mandating immunizations, officials from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other organizations said.

The testing requirement covers employees who are in the workplace at least once a week.

If “the employee decides they’re leaving their job rather than getting vaccinated, they are very fearful that they won’t be able to find somebody to replace that person,” said Michael Tierney, president of the Community Bankers of Michigan, citing a labor shortage.

The groups criticized the requirement as burdensome, said it could lead to increased vaccine hesitancy and questioned the timing. The hospitality and retail sectors are entering their busiest period of the year at a time of supply-chain disruptions in the economy, said Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley.

“The timing of implementing this rule really couldn’t be worse,” he said.

The White House said Monday that the mandate is about keeping people safe amid a pandemic that has killed more than 755,000 people in the U.S.

“We believe that in order to get this pandemic behind us, we need to get more people vaccinated, and this is a way to do that,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We see vaccination requirements work. It’s important to keep people safe in their workplace.”

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