KANSAS CITY, Mo. — COVID-19 and the nation’s highest court converged Thursday in the latest collision between the United States’ judicial branch and the pandemic.
The Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for private employers.
It drew a swift response from U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh who responded to SCOTUS’ decision.
“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country,” Walsh said. “OSHA stands by the Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard as the best way to protect the nation’s workforce from a deadly virus that is infecting more than 750,000 Americans each day and has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans.”
There’s an important point of clarity to make on these decisions, according to UMKC law professor Allen Rostron.
“I think some people might initially misconstrue this decision as meaning that vaccines can’t be required, that workers can’t be required to get vaccinated,” he said.
Mandates are now up to individual employers, without the federal government requiring one.
“We’ve actually had a lot of companies and seen a lot of companies go ahead and issue the mandate anyway,” Claudia Tran, an associate attorney at Ogletree Deakins said. “And so that’s still within the realm of employers. And so there are a lot of employers out there who currently have a vaccine mandate and can keep it in place.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court took a specific perspective on the pandemic.
“They really said that they don’t see COVID as being an occupational danger,” Rostron said. “It’s just a danger that applies whether you’re at work or school or you know, just out in a restaurant or whatever. It’s a societal danger that’s sort of ever present throughout the world.”
Federal employees and contractors are still subject to individual agency mandates.
The other key court decision today keeps a vaccine mandate in place for healthcare workers, which hasn’t affected systems like Swope Health.
“We lost three employees out of the 550 that Swope Health has and so very [it’s] negligible,” Swope Health president and CEO Jeron Ravin said. “I think that’s less than 1%. We have a vaccine rate right now of over 98%.”
AdventHealth rolled back their own vaccine mandate before Thursday’s decision.
In a statement provided to KSHB 41 News, AdventHealth said:
Based on scientific evidence and what we see in our hospitals every day, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at reducing both the risk of becoming infected and the level of harm in the case of a breakthrough infection. As part of our commitment to protecting the health and well-being of our team members, patients and communities, we strongly encourage all of our team members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, 96% of our team members are in compliance with the CMS vaccine mandate. We intend to be in compliance with the legal requirements and continue to monitor developments impacting its enforcement.
HCA was another health system that scaled back its vaccine mandate for its workers.
As of publication of this story, an updated policy was not provided to KSHB 41 News.
Moving forward, health systems are navigating a moving target, and could make more changes.
“We are probably moving towards mandating the booster, so we are going probably further than the Supreme Court ruling,” Ravin said.
It’s ruling that will impact millions of employees, their employers and a country that continues with an ever-changing winter.
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