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States Uncertain as Biden Vaccine-or-Test Mandate Takes Effect

The first stage of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for employees at large companies began Monday. But without word yet from the Supreme Court on pending challenges to the rule, some state leaders were left to take matters into their own hands.

The Supreme Court on Friday heard nearly four hours of arguments over two of the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements – cases that will have implications for some tens of millions of workers nationwide and for the president’s contentious strategy to combat the virus. The justices appeared skeptical of the requirements but seemed more open to a mandate for health care workers than the vaccine rule for private companies with more than 100 employees.

Still, some state leaders are acting ahead of a decision from the Supreme Court.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, announced Friday that the state’s labor commision had submitted a notice that Iowa will not be adopting or enforcing the mandate.

“We are going to continue to protect the freedoms and liberties of Iowans,” Reynolds said in a statement. “The Biden Administration continues to ignore the constitutional rights afforded to all Americans, which our country was built on. Instead, they’d rather dictate health care decisions and eliminate personal choice, causing our businesses and employees to suffer and exacerbating our workforce shortage.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson likewise said Sunday that large businesses should not comply with the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test rule while they await a Supreme Court decision, insisting that the choice should be left up to businesses.

“This mandate of OSHA, of the federal government, needs to be struck down,” Hutchinson said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And that’s why we’re fighting against it. And I expect the Supreme Court, hopefully, to rule against the Biden administration on that oppressive vaccine mandate.”

The states are among at least two dozen that have sued the Biden administration over the vaccine rule in recent months. The rule applies to an estimated 84 million people and requires employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccination or face weekly testing and a masking requirement. In November, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted the rule. But last month, after the case was reassigned to the 6th Circuit, it was reinstated.

Although pushback has been consistent since President Joe Biden announced his administration’s vaccine mandates as part of its coronavirus strategy, the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision poses a real threat to the White House’s plan going forward.

Former Biden COVID-19 transition advisory board member Ezekiel Emanuel said on Sunday that vaccine mandates will be necessary for bringing vaccination levels up.

“We got voluntarily to about 60%, but to get beyond that we are going to need the employer mandate that OSHA’s put out, the health care mandate that (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has put out.” Emanuel said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The Supreme Court has to recognize that COVID in the workplace is a real health threat and really does affect many people. … We will never get to 70%, 80% or 90% of the American population vaccinated without a mandate. It’s just that simple.”

In other areas, leaders are taking steps to protect the vaccine rule for private companies ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision. The Illinois Department of Labor on Friday filed to adopt the federal OSHA vaccine-or-test standard, effective immediately. And New York City began requiring vaccinations for employees within the private sector through its own mandate, which goes further than the Biden administration’s, late last month.

Although the vaccine-or-test rule began Monday, OSHA announced that just the first portion – which includes a masking requirement for workers who are unvaccinated – is in effect, while the testing requirement will not be enforced until Feb. 9 “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”

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