With President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate announced last week, at least a few local health care facilities will likely be strained even further than they have been the past 18 months. Biden said he will request the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft an emergency rule requiring all health care employees to be vaccinated without the previous alternative of weekly COVID-19 testing.
Businesses with 100 employees or more will now be required to have all employees be vaccinated, although they will still be given the option to opt out with weekly testing.
The administration said the rule would be finalized in a matter of weeks but no date has been announced for when people would be required to get their vaccines.
Five protestors gathered near City Park on Friday to show their disapproval for Biden’s mandate. Organizer Carol Armstrong, while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, said they received a positive response from the public with free gifts given to them and “so many tooting horns and waving.”
“We’re very concerned with the way this country is going,” she said. “He has no right to mandate what we put in our body.
“People are being forced to take the vaccine against their wishes or lose their job – that is so un-American.”
Typically, vaccination requirements for health care workers vary based on the facility and state. Wyoming has no state mandated requirements for health care workers.
“The notion that the President of the United States can simply issue an edict like this raises real constitutional concerns,” said U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney during a media call on Friday.
Cody Regional Health is the largest employer in the county affected by the new order. CEO Doug McMillan said staff would await a final signed order from Biden and then adhere to it.
“We are worried about the staffing issues because of that,” he said. “We’ve talked to other hospitals who said they will lose staff and yes, we’re concerned as well. There’s an existing shortage of staff, and this mandate is going to exacerbate that.”
However, McMillan said having more people in the area vaccinated is the best way to get past the COVID surge, along with testing and treatments.
Aside from Cody Regional Health, one of the few private Cody businesses with more than 100 employees is the Y-Tex Corporation, which has around 119 employees right now and sometimes up to 130-135.
A representative from the company said they will make plans when more information is available on the mandate.
If OSHA were to inspect every workplace under its jurisdiction, it would take 129 years to complete the task, according to a 2011 report from AFL-CIO.
Park County Commissioner Dossie Overfield said it is unclear whether the mandate will affect the county at this time, but it may as it comes from OSHA.
"I don't like mandates that take away citizens' rights to make their own decisions on how to take care of themselves," she said. "Helping citizens get good factual information to help make the decisions is a better solution in my view."
On Thursday, Gov. Mark Gordon issued a statement condemning Biden’s order.
“The Biden Administration’s announcement to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for private businesses is an egregious example of big government overreach,” he said, adding he has asked Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to be prepared to take all actions to oppose the administration’s order.
The Republican National Committee also said Thursday that it plans to sue the Biden administration over the order it described as “unconstitutional.”
Biden’s mandate could affect as many 100 million people in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control only recommends the annual flu vaccine for health care workers, but inoculations for hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, pneumococcal, and varicella are commonly required at facilities around the nation.
As of Friday, Powell Valley Healthcare’s Care Center, a facility for long term patients, only had a 15% full vaccination among its employees. The 480-employee organization as a whole only had a 35% full vaccination rate.
In response to Biden’s announcement, Jim Cannon, marketing and community relations director for PVHC, said 17 employees got their first vaccine. If this staff gets their second, Cannon said it will bump up the full vaccination rate to about 39%.
“We’re concerned about closing and staff shortages because not everyone wants to get the vaccine,” Cannon said.
But Cannon said the hospital is not asking its employees to get the vaccine, consistent with its policy on the flu vaccine he said has been in place for at least the 25 years he has been employed there. Although PVHC has offered rewards to employees for getting the flu vaccine, they have not done any for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our administration doesn’t want to mandate vaccines, we’d like to let our people make their own decisions,” he said.
He said recruiting employees is difficult for the facility under normal circumstances and the pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges.
“Everyone’s taxed,” Cannon said.
As of midday Friday, there were 163 active cases of COVID-19 in Park County. That day CRH had five COVID-19 patients and two open intensive care unit beds. PVHC had six patients and no open beds.
“We’re just looking for the turning point in the storm,” Cannon said.
Protestor Patty McMillan (no relation to Doug McMillan) said she doesn’t think any health care worker should be required to get the vaccine and there should be more consideration for people who have already had the virus and developed a natural immunity.
The CDC says people can generally expect three months of protection from natural antibodies after contracting the virus.
Patti McMillan said there is much distrust regarding what is and what is not a fact when it comes to the coronavirus because of inconsistent information surfacing regarding the novel disease.
“You can’t really trust what’s coming out,” McMillan said.
(Zac Taylor contributed to this report)