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Marion City Council reluctantly adopts federal, state COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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MARION – The City Council on Monday night reluctantly approved an ordinance adopting OSHA's workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandate policies. 

Following the OSHA's Emergency Temporary Standard under discussion at the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the various judicial stays, the federal vaccine mandate has taken effect while the Supreme Court remains silent on the issue.    

City governments in Illinois, such as Marion, fall under guidelines set forth by the Illinois Department of Labor that require vaccinations and/or testing. Illinois recently adopted the federal guidelines. 

In anticipation that this may happen, Mayor Mike Absher said the city added the ordinance to the budget for discussion at the Monday, Jan. 10 meeting. It happened to be the same night it was announced Illinois OSHA would be adopting those guidelines, Absher said.

Federal OSHA’s ETS on COVID-19 applies to all employers with 100 or more employees, city attorney Wendy Cunningham said.

“Any employee that is not vaccinated would be required to test weekly for COVID,” Cunningham said. “As he (the mayor) said on Friday, Illinois OSHA released their timeline, and we’re required to have a policy in place on Feb. 24, 2022. Unless the Supreme Court issues something that changes, that’s what we’re required to do.”

The city of Marion is required to determine vaccination status of all employees, including having proof of vaccination for those that are. All employees not fully vaccinated must be tested weekly and must wear a mask when indoors or in a vehicle on work business with another individual —  unless it is a safety hazard, Cunningham said.

An example of an individual who wouldn’t have to wear a mask would be an unvaccinated firefighter when they are wearing their other mask for a rescue, Cunningham said.

Acceptable tests are rapid, PCR or at-home tests but a designated individual must read at-home tests, Cunningham said.

The city of Marion must have its employees' first week of testing under this mandate by March 25, 2022.

In this mandate, fully vaccinated refers to an individual two weeks after they have received either one shot of Johnson & Johnson or two shots of Moderna or Pfizer, Cunningham said. The mandate, as is, doesn't require the booster shot. 

After much criticism and debate, council members — aside from Commissioner Jim Webb who was absent — voted to approve the ordinance.

If they did not approve the ordinance, the city of Marion would be faced with ongoing fines of $13,650 per violation for not following the mandate. If there is gross disregard, OSHA can increase the fines. 

One of the many criticisms came from Absher in regard to test availability.

“Everybody knows there’s a testing shortage,” Absher said. “That’s going to be a challenge. Not exactly sure how to navigate that and what happens if there are no tests available.”

OSHA’s ETA states that they have determined there will be enough tests; however, should an employer not be able to meet this demand but made a good faith attempt to follow it, OSHA will withhold fine enforcement, according to Cunningham.

City leaders and council members acknowledged at the meeting that many would not like this decision, but they implore employees to not take it out on staff enforcing it.

“Employees, try to understand the ever-changing nature of this and how hard it is to navigate,” Absher said.

Dignity and respect are at the forefront of Arrowleaf’s new client choice food pantry in the heart of Cairo after six years without a grocery store, according to Arrowleaf CEO Sherrie Crabb.

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