Lewis County PUD Tables COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Policy After Supreme Court Ruling

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The Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) has chosen to table a new COVID-19 vaccination policy outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after the U.S. Supreme Court last week halted the Biden administration from moving forward with a vaccine-or-test requirement on businesses with 100 or more employees.

PUD commissioners decided during a Tuesday morning meeting to move forward with a recommendation from staff to continue existing masking and social distancing policies in lieu of the new policy, which would affect the PUD workforce of about 134.

That means workers will not be required starting next month to either submit to a series of COVID-19 vaccines or be subject to weekly tests if not vaccinated.

“This is not something we need to be looking at moving any further than where it’s at,” PUD Commissioner Michael Kelly said Tuesday.

PUD Commissioner Tim Cournyer said he agreed with Kelly, adding that “anything we’d be doing right now would be guessing.”

Staff originally told commissioners earlier this month they were drafting utility policy to fall in line with the new work requirements, which back then had been cleared to move forward after conflicting opinions in federal court.

The new requirements would have affected more than 80 million workers nationwide, The Associated Press reported. And U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in a statement that he was “disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country.”

The 6-3 majority conservative Supreme Court has allowed, however, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to move forward for health care workers employed by providers that received federal Medicaid and Medicare funds, which is expected to affect 10.4 million people, the AP reported.

PUD General Manager Chris Roden, who provided the policy drafted by his staff during Tuesday’s meeting, said they could revisit the language at a later date if there’s further decision on the OHSA policy or if it changes. 

Many municipalities and local elected officials have mulled over potential COVID-19 vaccination requirements by way of federal and state work requirements, but have taken no action.

Back in the fall, the Lewis County Board of Commissioners voiced overwhelming opposition to the idea of a vaccination mandate for county workers after the Biden administration took interest through OSHA regulations, County Manager Erik Martin said.

But taking the temperature of how the feds and states feel about coronavirus on any given day can be challenging.

Martin said it’s “hard to tell” where Washington state Labor and Industries — the agency Lewis County takes heed from on workers health guidance — will be in a year.

“It certainly seems to me like the regulations around COVID, and especially with omicron, are starting to soften a bit as opposed to going the other direction and more strict,” he said, adding later: “You never know what COVID’s going to do.”

Willie Painter, spokesperson for Lewis County PUD, said PUD commissioners and staff have been “approaching it slightly differently” than other government entities, not knowing the Supreme Court was going to take action to halt the OSHA requirement.

“I think the PUD is just trying to make sure we’re complying with state and federal law to the extent we’re able to,” he said.