York, Maine Prepares for Federal COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
The York Board of Selectmen approved a COVID-19 vaccination or testing mandate for town employees at their meeting Monday night, but only if the federal mandate is approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Acting Emergency Management Director Nicole Pestanta made the case for the mandate, presenting the board with the numbers showing York County with the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started in March 2020. The positivity rate has jumped to 22.96% compared to 4.39% at the end of November.
"That means almost 23% of the tests that are being taken right now are coming back positive. At this time last year we were at 6.63%," Pestanta said, although an increase in positive tests was expected coming out of the holiday season.
The mandate was also implemented in anticipation of enforcement of the federal mandate, requiring employers with over 100 workers to have received the COVID-19 vaccination or test negative during a supervised test once a week. Unvaccinated workers must also wear a mask at all times while in the workplace.
Mandate Still Being Debated
OSHA will start enforcing the mandate on Feb. 4, pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"For now, we need to continue moving forward with it so that if it does pass through we are in compliance," member Kathryn Lagasse said, adding that the policy would not take effect if the court rules against the mandate.
Town Manager Stephen Burns said the town has to be prepared to comply or face potential fines from OSHA. The agency has admitted it does not have the staff to fully enforce the mandate and would rely on reports from the public.
The town is currently collecting vaccination status from all employees.
Member Kinley Gregg raised concerns that elected officials would also have to comply with the mandate, which was addressed by Burns.
"I don't think a policy you're adopting for town employees will affect an elected official the way it does to staff because staff can be fired. You can't be fired," Burns said.
Burns implanted a mask requirement for employees while in town vehicles and in municipal buildings regardless of vaccination status.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH