OSHA To Release a Vaccination Mandate for Employers

Several members of the National Council on Farmer Cooperatives and NMPF met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Oct. 18 to discuss a pending standard which will require employers with over 100 employees to ensure the workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a negative weekly COVID-19 test.

This action is one part in President Biden’s overall multi-prong plan to vaccinate the unvaccinated. Specifically, the plans states:

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement this requirement. This requirement will impact over 80 million workers in private sector businesses with 100+ employees.

The president also announced the standard will require employers to provide paid time off for the time it takes for workers to get vaccinated or to recover if they experience post-vaccine symptoms.

The coalition that met with OMB raised numerous concerns about the mandate while making it clear it will continue to advocate for vaccinations. Still, key questions include whether there will be enough tests to handle the demand. If there are insufficient tests to meet demand, the coalition is concerned the program will fail, further disrupting an already fragile supply chain. NMPF suggested that the White House should consider invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA), as it did several times in the past year to address other COVID related issues, to ensure availability of affordable rapid COVID-19 tests.

The group also raised concerns about record-keeping, time-off requirements and potential suspension of the ETS if it creates supply chain disruption, particularly for workers deemed essential by DHS-CISA in its Critical Infrastructure Workers v 4.0 NMPF helped develop in 2020.

The ETS was never a proposed rule, and the details are largely unknown, and stakeholders had very little opportunity to comment on it. The ETS standard is expected to be released this week.

COVID-19 Delta Variant: What Dairy Employers Need to Know

What is the Delta variant?

The Delta variant is currently the predominant strain of the COVID-19 virus circulating in the U.S. It is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants and more likely to cause severe illness than previous strains among people who are unvaccinated.

While it spreads primarily among the unvaccinated, no one is immune. Individuals infected with the Delta variant, including fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections, can transmit it to others.

What can I do to protect myself and my workforce?

Get vaccinated. Authorized vaccines are highly effective at protecting people against severe COVID-19. Fully vaccinated people are much less likely to become infected and, if infected, to develop symptoms of COVID-19. They are at substantially reduced risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated people. NMPF is one of 30 agricultural organizations promoting vaccinations among farmers and other rural Americans.

Vaccination remains an employer’s best tool for returning to normalcy, even with the Delta variant. If you’re an employer, remove any barriers that could prevent your employees from getting vaccinated and consider offering incentives to employees upon proof of vaccination.

Health experts urge that an overwhelming portion of the population must be vaccinated to overcome the disruptions of COVID-19.

What guidance is available for fully vaccinated people?

Outdoor activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people. However, to reduce their risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant and potentially spreading it to others, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Get tested 3-5 days after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19
  • Continue to follow any applicable federal, state and local laws, rules, and regulations.

What guidance is available for unvaccinated people?

For unvaccinated individuals, CDC guidance for preventing COVID-19 and managing its spread remains unchanged:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Wear a mask
  • Stay six feet away from others
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect
  • Monitor your health daily

What should be done in situations when not everyone is vaccinated?

In situations when vaccinated and unvaccinated workers may be interacting, the safest path is to act as if everyone is unvaccinated. This is a change brought about by the Delta variant, which, although much less likely to infect vaccinated people and much less likely to cause serious illness, may still be spread by the vaccinated. Also, the long-term effectiveness of current vaccines is unknown, making the risk of infection potentially higher among even the vaccinated in coming months.

Other Resources

Dairy Helps Get Rural America Vaccinated, With Co-ops Leading the Way

The robust pace of U.S. COVID-19 vaccinations is the most important story in the country right now – and not just because vaccinations make the U.S. healthier and safer. They’re also important to building back economies – in the case of dairy, they get people into restaurants, keep schools open for in-person learning (and nutritious school lunches), and revive outlets for dairy-farmer products that have been hampered by pandemic-era life.

But herd immunity, the threshold at which the spread of the virus is broken, doesn’t happen on its own. It takes a lot of shots in a lot of arms — and a lot of trust, as people who for whatever reason may be hesitant to receive a vaccine shy away from inoculation. This is frequently the case in rural areas, where many lives are naturally socially distanced, human interactions are fewer and access to health care facilities and educational materials may not be as readily available.

That’s where dairy farms and their cooperatives come in. Dairy farmers are leaders in their communities, as well as significant employers. They’re also usually part of a cooperative, which has expertise and resources that can be applied in many areas, including public health. They’re no stranger to shots – people who work with cows knew the word “coronavirus” for decades before it became socially distanced coffee shop conversation – and they know how to organize a vaccination effort.

For all these reasons, and more, dairy has emerged as a key part of outreach to medically underserved rural areas, making sure those regions – and with it, the nation — has its fair chance to overcome COVID-19. Below is only a sampling of grassroots efforts in the dairy community to keep America safe and get it moving again.

  • Farmers and cooperatives across the country are putting together vaccination events for farmers, staff and farmworkers in the fields where they live and work. Natural Prairie Dairy, a member of Select Milk Producers Inc. organized a vaccination event for 300 of its employees at its organic dairy farm in Dalhart, Texas. And Michigan Milk Producers Association has been driving employees to vaccination sites when necessary: “We worked with the local health department and got all employees that wanted a vaccine scheduled on a few different dates,” said Gertie van den Goor, an MMPA member and dairy farmer outside Marlette, MI. “We drove everyone who needed transportation up there, and most of them were able to go during work time. We have around 80-90 percent of our employees fully vaccinated.”
  • At Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Association, employees receive a $50 Amazon gift card upon receiving a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; at Dairy Farmers of America, co-op employees are offered two hours of pay for each vaccine they receive; and at Lone Star Milk Producers, employees can take paid time off to get their shots;
  • Northwest Dairy Association/Darigold, Prairie Farms and Associated Milk Producers Inc., among others, have organized vaccinations at their processing plants;
  • And at NMPF, we’re offering our COVID-19 vaccination resource toolkit, with materials in English and Spanish, to make sure that people who have been putting themselves at risk every day as part of the essential dairy workforce have access to the information they need. That’s in addition to the wide range of materials we’ve developed and publicized on how to maintain a safe work area and ensure best practices throughout the pandemic.

To get the nation where it needs to go in COVID-19 protection, it’s going to take efforts big and small, from organizations that care, across the country. To be successful, those organizations need to be ones that live in the same places as the people are who need vaccinations and are led by people trusted by those who may be vaccine-hesitant, or simply find it harder to get to one. As a 50-state, 24/7 industry, dairy is in these places and well-positioned to make a difference. It’s already happening – and it will continue to do so until the return to something resembling normal that everyone craves has arrived.

Together, we can do this. And dairy’s an important part of “we.”