Story County supervisors enact COVID vaccine mandate for county staff in line with new OSHA standards

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Story County will require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide a weekly negative test as the omicron variant has sent cases rising in recent weeks.

The supervisors' vote Monday aligns county policy with an emergency temporary standard issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at their meeting.

The OSHA standard requires employers with 100 or more employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide a negative test for the disease each week — though there are exceptions.

The supervisors tabled the vaccine requirement for county employees last month, hoping to see the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in on court challenges across the country to the federal mandate. The board's reconsideration comes as OSHA's plans to enforce its standards are expected to go into effect.

More: Supreme Court to hear arguments in challenges to Biden vaccine-or-testing mandates on Jan. 7

The federal mandate has been on hold pending court proceedings until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District in Cincinnati reversed a district court decision last month. The mandate had been challenged by 27 Republican-led states, conservative groups, business associations and some individual companies.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the issue Friday, but OSHA plans to begin citing employers over violations after Jan. 10.

If the Supreme Court overturns the federal mandate, the Story County policy will be nullified. The policy also states it will reflect the most recent Centers for Disease Control guidance.

Monday night, the Nevada School Board issued a similar mandate for its employees.

COVID-19's highly transmissible omicron variant has led to a surge in cases across the U.S.

The Story County Board of Health argued in their written recommendation for the vaccine policy that a mandate would create a safer work environment and, with each organization that takes this course of action, it adds "impetus and strength to widespread vaccination."

Story County's mandate will apply to all county employees, breaking from typical policies set by each elected official.

Employees who have tested positive will not be required to undergo weekly testing for 90 days, according to the policy. Employees will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a one-dose vaccine or the second of a two-dose vaccine.

Partially vaccinated employees will be required to continue weekly testing and mask-wearing.

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.