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NC Labor commissioner opposes federal employer vaccine mandate

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As key COVID-19 metrics remain on a bumpy, but overall downward trend locally and statewide, the state’s labor commissioner said Thursday he believes the Biden administration’s employer vaccination mandate “is the wrong approach.”

Commissioner Josh Dobson, a former Republican legislator, was responding to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration publishing Thursday an Emergency Temporary Standard.

The standard requires all employers with 100 or more workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or weekly testing for employees by Jan. 4.

“While the N.C. Department of Labor adopted verbatim federal OSHA’s June COVID-19 (standard) for health care, I am concerned about this new vaccine mandate and its potential consequences for North Carolina,” Dobson said.

Meanwhile, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday that Forsyth had 73 new cases, but no additional COVID-19 related deaths.

Forsyth has had 52,144 cases of the virus and 567 related deaths since daily counts began in mid-March 2020.

More businesses and nonprofits with at least 100 employees are following the Biden administration’s recommendation to require workers be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment.

“Many large employers already require vaccines for their employees, and I respect that decision,” Dobson said.

“However, the federal government should not have the power to make that decision for employers and employees.”

In response to the vaccine mandate, more unvaccinated individuals are requesting an exemption from the mandate to avoid losing their job.

Americans have been able to request exemptions for certain educational, employment and other societal functions since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The N.C. Division of Employment Security said it “will review whether the person filing for unemployment benefits was compliant with their employer’s policy.”

Under federal rules, N.C. Labor officials must respond to federal OSHA within 15 days regarding the agency’s decision on adoption of the standard.

“At this point, we are reviewing the text of the rule and its potential impact on our state’s employers and will ultimately issue a response by the required date,” Dobson said.

“We anticipate legal action at the state and federal level, which may impact NCDOL’s next steps.”

Commissioner’s response

Dobson said in his statement that he is fully vaccinated.

“I strongly encourage my employees and all North Carolinians to get the vaccine,” Dobson said. “I believe the vaccine is the best way to get our country out of this pandemic

“I also believe that employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees.”

However, Dobson said the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate will “further strain existing resources within the OSHA division and exacerbate the state’s workforce crisis.”

Dobson said N.C.’s OSHA division has had nearly 5,000 COVID-19 related complaints filled since the pandemic began in mid-March.

“Adding enforcement of this (federal) vaccine standard to the OSH Division’s workload without any additional federal funding or compliance officers will further impede our ability to achieve our core mission responsibilities,” Dobson said.

“Our compliance officers should be spending their time working with employers to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities at construction sites and manufacturing facilities, rather than knocking on doors to check an employer’s vaccine records.”

Dobson said employers “not only risk losing experienced and capable employees, but they also bear the burden of overseeing the testing process for non-vaccinated employees, in addition to paying for time off related to vaccines and recovery from side effects.”

Vaccination scheduling

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Novant Health Inc. and Forsyth Department of Public Health have set their initial plans for vaccination appointments for children ages 5 to 11.

There is no requirement to be a patient of the health-care systems to obtain the Pfizer kids’ vaccination.

Brenner Children’s Hospital and Baptist are accepting appointments for the Downtown Health Plaza and four other pediatric primary clinics — two in Guilford County and one each in Davidson and Davie counties. Baptist expects to have the Pfizer kids’ vaccines available at all 17 pediatric primary clinics by next week.

A list of locations, vaccine type and age availability can be found at www.wakehealth.edu/vaccine. Appointments can be scheduled online through myWakeHealth or by calling (336) 702-6843.

Novant also began accepting appointments Thursday for its mass-vaccination site at Hanes Mall. Vaccinations are available from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

Select Novant pediatric and family medicine clinic will offer appointments through a MyChart account or at GetVaccinated.org.

The county health department will be scheduling appointments at 5 p.m. Friday at Bit.Ly/FCNCCovidVaccine or by calling (336) 582-0800 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Vaccinations will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the department, 799 N. Highland Ave.

Vaccination clinic hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except Thursday, which is from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday hours normally are 9 a.m. to noon, but the hours for Nov. 20 will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The kids’ dose is about one-third of the strength of the adult version, and is given with smaller needles. These doses are free, as are shots for people ages 12 and older.

DHHS said Wednesday it will provide more than 468,000 kids’ doses statewide, which would cover about 52% of the 893,000 North Carolinians in that age group if fully used.

The expectation is that all 750 providers of the kids’ vaccine will get their doses by Monday. About 185,000 doses are being shipped to retail pharmacies.

Baptist has said its initial shipment contains about 6,900 doses, while the county health department has received 3,900 doses, of which 1,500 doses were transferred to Novant.

Forsyth health director Joshua Swift has estimated that about 20,000 of the 35,500 children ages 5 to 11 in the county would get fully vaccinated.

Swift recommends parents have their child get their first dose by mid-November so that they can be fully vaccinated by Christmas.

Forsyth update

Before the delta variant became prevalent locally, Forsyth averaged 14 new cases per day over a two-week period in mid-to-late July.

There were some days with no new reported cases during that period.

By contrast, as of noon Thursday, Forsyth had averaged 62 new cases per day over the most recent two-week period.

Since early July, the vast majority of the COVID-related deaths have been among unvaccinated individuals, hospital officials say.

There also have been deaths involving vaccinated people who were immunocompromised or who had other health issues.

About 35% of Forsyth’s COVID-19-related deaths, or 197, have occurred since April 15. There have been 104 deaths since Sept. 1.

Statewide update

DHHS reported 2,201 new cases Thursday, compared with 1,777 on Wednesday, 1,214 on Tuesday and 1,096 on Monday.

There were 61 COVID-19-related deaths reported statewide between noon Wednesday and noon Thursday.

Monday’s case count is the lowest daily statewide count since 871 on July 19.

Across North Carolina, there have been 1.49 million COVID-19 cases and 18,211 deaths since the pandemic began.

DHHS listed 1,173 COVID-19-related hospitalizations statewide as of noon Thursday, down 21 from Wednesday’s report.

Hospitals in the 17-county Triad and Northwest N.C. region reported a combined 276 COVID-19 patients, down three from Wednesday’s report.

The latest statewide positive test rate is 4.4% based on 33,790 tests conducted Tuesday.

For Forsyth, the average positive test rate was 5.1% over the past 14 days.

State officials have said a statewide positive test rate of 5% or higher represents an elevation in community spread of COVID-19.

DHHS said 67% of adult North Carolinians are fully vaccinated, or about 5.4 million with the two-dose regimen and 437,737 with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

As of noon Tuesday, 215,238 Forsyth residents — or 56% of all residents — are fully vaccinated. By comparison, Guilford is 56% fully vaccinated, Durham 65%, Wake 66% and Mecklenburg 57%.

Among adults, 68% of adult Forsyth residents are fully vaccinated. By comparison, Guilford is at 67%, Durham 77%, Wake 80% and Mecklenburg 70%.

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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