County Board prepares for possible COVID-19 standard from OSHA

The emergency temporary standard from OSHA requiring COVID vaccines or weekly tests and masks, which is currently being held up in federal courts, was discussed during the meetings of the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners.

Administrator Tom Barry explained some of the rules behind the order, such as all staff, with no exceptions, will need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in some health care facilities that receive payment under Medicare or Medicaid.

OSHA also issued this COVID vaccine rule for all employers with 100 or more employees.

If the OSHA rules clear the courts, the penalties for noncompliance could be a maximum of $13,653  for the first violation, and a further violation of $13,563 a day for failure to remedy the violation.

Barry also noted that a bill proposed in Congress could increase these maximum penalties by 10 times their 1970 values.

Barry says about 50 percent of staff are already fully vaccinated, which is about 215 staff members, but the public health department as is can only process 60 COVID tests per day.

The deadline for compliance is Jan. 4, 2022, but with the court injunctions, these deadlines will not likely need to be met.

Ultimately, the decision to either mandate vaccines across the board or offer weekly testing with a masking policy falls to the county board to decide.

Commissioner Reed Olson presented an issue with how the federal and state governments would push the hefty decision-making to local government.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick echoed Olson’s comment, describing these latest rules as just another “unfunded mandate.”

Public Health Director Megan Heuer briefly reviewed current COVID numbers during the county meeting and says compared to Nov. 2020, the first 14 days of this month had more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 than this time last year.

Heuer also said that between Nov. 4, and Nov. 10, 36 percent of new cases were children from birth to age 18.

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