GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.
COVID-19 vaccines have been available to everyone 16 and older since April, 12 and older since May, and five to eleven since November, but now vaccine requirements or tests will be mandatory in January for workers at companies with 100 or more employees. President of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Diane Schwenke says, “For businesses overall, and frankly a lot of our small businesses that are going to be swept up in this, this is going to be an incredible burden.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is forcing companies to require unvaccinated workers to test negative for COVID once a week and wear a mask in the workplace. Part time workers or seasonal workers will count towards 100 employees, and businesses with multiple locations must count all employees. “It draws their time and their resources away from actually doing commerce and making cash registers ring,” said Schwenke.
Businesses have faced hiring shortages, supply chain issues, and now they must keep vaccination records, and weekly test results on site. Schwenke says, “The penalty could be $14,000 per violation, but OSHA’s emergency standard didn’t define, what’s a violation?” It’s still unclear what constitutes a violation, but the January 4th deadline for compliance is concrete and the chamber wants small local businesses to also plan accordingly. “OSHA is actually asking for public comment for the next 30 days about whether smaller sized businesses would also have the capacity to enact this standard,” said Schwenke.
OSHA estimates the vaccine mandate will save more than 6,500 workers lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations over the next six months. People working in hospitals or other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid don’t have an option for testing, they must be vaccinated. Exemptions include medical or religious beliefs.
As part of the mandate private employers don’t have to pay for tests, but they have to offer paid time off for workers to get tested or get the COVID-19 vaccine.