9/17/21 Federal COVID-19 vaccine, testing mandates ‘will have an massive impact on Quad-Cities businesses’

Article written by Time Loewy, Quad City Times

Call it a “ripple effect” — except the pebble is a meteor in the form of a new federal mandate and the pond is businesses throughout the Quad-Cities.

President Joe Biden laid out a plan last week that calls for COVID-19 vaccinations or regular testing for every business with more than 100 employees. It is ambitious. And, right now, it is vague.

The ripples in this scenario? Waves of questions crashing on the local business community.

“I would say the shock waves from this mandate have been massive,” said management labor and employment attorney Allison Wright of Pappas Wright, P.C. “On the days where I’m not spending half my time on this issue I’m spending all my time on it.

“There is the issue of mandating vaccinations. And there’s the issue of testing. No one knows what this is going to look like. Are we looking at telling companies they have to find ways to vaccinate and test all employees? That’s a huge undertaking. The questions just keep coming.”

There roughly 50 businesses with 300 or more employees throughout the area. Pappas Wright, PC represents hundreds of businesses throughout the Quad-Cities of all sizes.

“You have to remember that any company — no matter its size — that has federal contracts will have to meet the mandates,” Wright said. “This will be an enormous undertaking and we just don’t know everything right now. We are waiting on OSHA to set out the guidelines companies will need to follow.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA, is charged with protecting the country’s labor force and is expected to finalize the vaccine mandate in the coming weeks. In the absence of a plan, questions about how workers will be vaccinated, and how others will be tested in a timely manner, are swirling in the Quad-Cities.

“I have heard everything from finding ways to partner with public health to get people vaccinated to others expressing hope the mandate is challenged in court,” Wright said.

Wright said the best thing large employers can do right now is to “try and start planning ahead, as much as possible.”

The city of Davenport employs nearly 1,000 full-time workers and is trying to stay ahead of the mandate. Along with the possible logistics nightmares Davenport faces, it’s looking squarely at the added challenge of forging a partnership with union members to make the mandate work.

“We have been following President Biden’s ‘Path Out of the Pandemic Plan’ closely and are currently waiting on additional implementation guidance,” said Mallory Merritt, Davenport’s assistant city administrator. “However, in the interim, we are actively meeting with union leadership, beginning the collection of vaccination records on a voluntary basis, and exploring business systems and partnerships that may be needed to support this initiative including possible testing.”

Testing, said Wright, is a “huge question. Really, the biggest question.”

“People assume tests will be readily available,” Wright said. “They are not. There are pharmacies and retail stores that do testing. But how long will that take? And public health is not equipped for rapid expansion of testing.

“Don’t get me wrong — I respect and value what public health has done and what they do. But I don’t think there has been a lot of thought given at the federal level to what is going to be needed to meet this mandate.”

Janet Hill, chief operating officer and public information officer of the Rock Island County Health Department, said much depends on what OSHA outlines in the coming weeks. She also offered a reminder about testing.

“The testing option isn’t designed to be a loophole —  it is for people with legitimate religious and medical exemptions,” Hill said. “However, OSHA hasn’t said exactly how this regulation will be implemented for companies with more than 100 people. At this point in the Quad-Cities, testing capacity is less than we’d like to see because state testing sites are not set up here.

“The best tool to end this pandemic remains vaccination. Everyone 12 and older is eligible. People who can be vaccinated but are choosing not to be will strain testing resources even further.”

Hill said Illinois has renewed testing at its community-based nasal-swab (PCR) testing sites. The closest sites are Peoria and Rockford.

She also pointed to Black Hawk College in Moline, which offers the University of Illinois Shield saliva-testing option two days a week, Monday and Thursday. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to noon.

PCR tests also are available at CVS, Walgreens, some HyVee locations.

Amy Thoreson, director at the Scott County Health Department, and Brooke Barnes, the department’s deputy director, said testing resources are a topic of conversation with the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“We recognize that resources are stressed, giving the continued high level of transmission in the community and greater need for testing. We are working with Iowa Department of Public Health to determine what additional resources can be brought to the community to support the increased testing needs due to COVID-19 spread and illness, travel testing requests, and now employment testing,” Barnes said.
 
Wright said testing and vaccination issues raise the fact “clinics are not set up over night.”
 
“I think there’s a huge misunderstanding about what’s available out there,” Wright said. “The demands on businesses are massive — and not all the resources are there.”