Covid-19 updates, Local News, State News

Big Vermont employers waiting to hear more about Biden’s vaccine mandate

Area ski resorts among them

By Fred Thys/VTDigger

Some large Vermont employers say they’re waiting to learn more about President Joe Biden’s order that all employers with more than 100 workers be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested weekly, while others says they already require employees to be vaccinated.

Biden’s order will affect about 100 million workers — 2/3 of the U.S. workforce, administration officials estimated.

Some of the largest employers in Vermont are its ski resorts — including Killington and Pico and Okemo Mountain Resort — who will be among those affected by the new vaccination requirement.

SunCommon, which employs about 200 people in New York and Vermont, is ahead of the curve and has been requiring its employees in both states to show proof of vaccination since Aug. 23.

“We earlier ensured that our employees are vaccinated, so the federal government urging the same is welcome news,” said Duane Peterson, co-president of SunCommon, the Waterbury-based provider of solar energy systems.

Peterson and Co-President James Moore wrote in an Aug. 12 letter to employees that those unable to show proof of vaccination would lose their jobs. Employees with medical or religious exemptions could opt to get tested once a week.

Peterson said one employee “moved on,” while half a dozen employees said they appreciated the education SunCommon provided and admitted that they wanted to keep their jobs, so they got vaccinated.

“This wasn’t decided lightly,” Peterson and Moore wrote employees. “[T]he wave of dangerous infection brought by the Delta variant has forced this latest step — to protect our beloved employees and their families, and our customers.”

Biden is requiring all employees of the executive branch and all federal contractors to be vaccinated, with no option to opt out with testing. However, employees will be able to invoke religious or medical exemptions.

There are 6,948 federal employees in Vermont, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition to the mandate on private employers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it will release an interim final rule next month requiring hospitals, dialysis facilities, home health agencies and other health providers to vaccinate staff as a condition for receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

A similar requirement for nursing homes was imposed earlier this summer.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services also announced vaccine requirements for employees of Head Start programs.

Earlier this week, Gov. Phil Scott announced that all executive branch employees would have to attest that they are vaccinated or be subject to masking and testing requirements starting this Wednesday, Sept. 15. The Vermont State Employees’ Association, which represents most state workers, has been notified of the new requirement, the governor said.

The state previously imposed that requirement on corrections officials and on those who work at state-run medical institutions. With the new regulations, unvaccinated employees would be mandated to wear masks and get tested at least weekly.

“We want as many people as possible to get the vaccine because we know they work, and we feel this is the best way to put this pandemic behind us,” Scott said. “I continue to urge other employers to follow suit.”

Some of Vermont’s largest employers — its public colleges and universities — would not be affected by Biden’s order. For instance, all University of Vermont students are already required to be vaccinated but not staff or faculty.

The Biden rule apparently will not affect public school employees, either.

“Our understanding is it does not apply to Vermont public schools,” said Darren Allen, communications director for Vermont-NEA, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “The president’s actions don’t change anything on the ground here in Vermont schools.”

Vermont-NEA supports vaccine requirements in schools, Allen said.

Hospitals, on the other hand, will be affected. As of Oct. 1, UVM Medical Center will require its staff to be vaccinated or comply with regular testing, spokesperson Neal Goswami said.

The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Care Systems supports the mandate. “As health care leaders we applaud efforts to require eligible Americans to be vaccinated,” said Jeffrey Thieman, president of the association. “It will save lives.”

So far, 87% of eligible Vermonters are partially or fully vaccinated.

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