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Who will be impacted by federal vaccine mandates in eastern Idaho?

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IDAHO FALLS — President Joe Biden’s new national COVID-19 vaccine mandates will mean changes for some eastern Idaho employees.

Biden’s order mandates vaccines for everyone at businesses employing more than 100 workers. As an alternative, workers will be able to show a negative result from a COVID-19 test at least once a week. Federal employees and their contractors won’t have the choice to get tested. Based on an executive order, those employees will have to get vaccinated or face losing their jobs.

RELATED | New rule mandates all employers with over 100 workers require vaccinations or weekly tests

The biggest impact in eastern Idaho will likely be felt at Idaho National Laboratory, which employs thousands of federal workers and contractors.

“Consistent with the administration’s Sept. 9 executive order, beginning Nov. 19, Idaho National Laboratory will require all staff members and many of its subcontractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” INL Director John Wagner said in a statement. “This decision reflects our core value of safety. It reflects our desire to protect vulnerable populations. As a leader in the state of Idaho and a national laboratory that changes the world through great science, it reflects our willingness to use the best scientific data available to protect our staff and achieve our missions.”

The Idaho National Laboratory employs about 5,200 people. INL spokeswoman Sarah Neumann said 69% of the employees are already vaccinated against COVID-19.

Not everyone at the lab was happy with that stance. A large number of INL employees and its contract workers met Thursday night at Community Park in Idaho Falls to sign a petition against the new mandate.

“There (are) multiple reasons for not wanting to get the vaccine, all of them are legitimate,” said Nicholas Christiansen, an INL employee who organized the petition. “There are multiple reasons for getting the vaccine and all of them are legitimate. What it boils down to is nobody has the right to tell you what you have to put into your body and that should never be a condition of employment.”

As of Monday afternoon, the petition had gathered about 385 signatures and Christiansen said more were coming in by the hour.

“We acknowledge the executive order and the constraints that BEA and INL face because of it,” Christensen said. “We believe these mandates to be unconstitutional and an egregious overreach by the executive branch of government. We are asking INL management to delay implementation of the executive order until such time as it is reviewed for constitutionality by a federal judge and to engage with employees in productive forums to find alternatives to vaccination.”

It’s not just the Idaho National Laboratory that is faced with mandated vaccines. For private companies employing more than 100 workers, Biden said the mandates will come through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is not yet fully clear as to what the ramifications from OSHA will be, but The National Law Review reports officials could fine $13,653 per violation, the maximum established by law.

EastIdahoNews.com reached out to several local employers with over 100 employees but none returned requests for comment.

Biden’s directives also said if hospitals want to treat patients on Medicare and Medicaid, all healthcare workers at the facilities must be vaccinated. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Coleen Niemann said as of now the hospital does not require employees to get vaccinated, but it is highly encouraged. Niemann said she was not sure how Biden’s order will impact the hospital’s policy.

OSHA jurisdiction does not extend to Idaho and local government employees unlike 22 other states with OSHA-approved State Plans.

Idaho Falls city spokesman Bud Cranor said the city is evaluating what President Biden’s announcement means for city employees. Cranor said city attorneys are reviewing the matter and looking to seek guidance from the Idaho state government.

RELATED | Idaho Gov. Brad Little ‘exploring’ lawsuit against President Biden’s vaccine mandate

Gov. Brad Little has been outspoken against Biden’s executive orders and mandates. Little said he believes government should stay out of decisions involving employers and employees as much as possible.

“The State of Idaho is exploring legal action to stop President Biden’s unprecedented government overreach into the private sector with his new COVID-19 plan,” Little said in a news release. “I am working closely with my legal counsel and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on legal options to protect the rights of business owners and their employees.”

A spokesman for Wasden’s office declined to comment on Monday.

RELATED | Idaho enacts crisis hospital care standards amid COVID surge

While Idaho has faced opposition to vaccines and other COVID-19 measures since the start of the pandemic, the population has not been immune to the virus. The Associated Press reported last week “crisis standards of care” have been implemented for the Gem State’s northern hospitals. Crisis Standards of care come when there are more coronavirus patients than medical providers can handle.

“We have reached an unprecedented and unwanted point in the history of our state,” Little said in an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare news release. “We have taken so many steps to avoid getting here, but yet again we need to ask more Idahoans to choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. More Idahoans need to choose to receive the vaccine so we can minimize the spread of the disease and reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, many of which involve younger Idahoans and are preventable with safe and effective vaccines.”

Between the Eastern Idaho Public Health and Southeastern Public Health district, the IDHW reports 47% of those 12 years old and older have been fully vaccinated. An additional 6% of the population has received just one dose of the two-dose vaccines.

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