Hoping to get a jump on administering the federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate if the courts should judge it legal, Dallas County Human Resources Director Beth Deardorff led a workshop Tuesday with the Dallas County Supervisors.
“I’m not trying to adopt a policy,” Deardorff told the three-man board. “I’m trying to move forward so if and when this is approved, then we’re not going to be scrambling at the last minute to try and get this done.”
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) Nov. 4 that required employers to determine by Dec. 5 which of their workers have been vaccinated and that required workers either to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, or to begin a regimen of weekly testing and on-the-job mask wearing.
Judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana promptly blocked the OSHA rule, and dozens of lawsuits were filed to overturn the ETS. The consolidated case is now before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio and will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, according to some experts in the law.
In response, OSHA announced on its website Wednesday that it “has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.” In spite of the pause, Deardorff said her department would still face a “tight turnaround” if the courts eventually restore the rule.
“I’d rather get a jump start on it and get as much done ahead of time,” she said. “I’m not looking to implement anything. I’m looking to just get the ball rolling and get moving.”
Enforcement of the OSHA rule will largely fall to employers, Deardorff said, including keeping vaccination and testing records. Employers that violate the rule could face fines of up to $13,653 per violation for serious violations and 10 times that amount for willful or repeated violations, she said.
Dallas County employs 300 full-time or part-time workers “give or take 20,” Deardorff said, including about 100 employees in the sheriff’s office.
“So let’s say we have 100 employees who come and say, ‘Well, I’ve got a religious or a medical exemption.’ Each of those employees could be fined individually, personally, if it’s found that it is untrue,” Deardorff said. “Now how OSHA’s going to prove that, I don’t know. I mean, and how they have the right to do that, that I also don’t know. This is just what they’re telling us.”
She said OSHA is providing document templates that will be helpful for religious and medical exemption requests and for recording weekly negative tests. Face-mask compliance will also need to be monitored as well as timing the expiration of antibody test results, which are good for 90 days, after which such employees are classified as unvaccinated.
Dallas County Deputy Auditor Jared Higley interposed and said the revised guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now advises that antibody immunity in people who have caught and recovered from COVID-19 lasts six months.
“That’s been ‘scientifically proven,’ right, Jared?” said Dallas County Supervisor Kim Chapman of Adel, with an apparent anti-CDC sneer. Chapman also chairs the Dallas County Board of Health.
“Well, if you can believe what the CDC says, sure,” Higley said. “They control the entire narrative.”
But it was Higley who seemed to control the narrative at the HR workshop. He shared “research” with the supervisors that purported to show face masks do not work, tests can “skew the numbers” and “vaccines do not stop transmission.”
“I’m not sure why we’re playing this charade of people who are fully vaccinated not having to wear a mask, not having to be tested, when they carry the same viral load in their nasal cavities as unvaccinated when and if you contract the disease,” Higley said.
Chapman appeared to be firmly committed to inaction.
“I’m not going to do anything until the courts decide what they’re going to do,” he said.
Deardorff seemed more eager to be prepared.
“I know some counties are collecting vaccination information now, and I don’t recommend doing that,” she said. “I don’t recommend that we implement or do anything until we know what’s going to happen with the courts. I’m just saying this is a lot of work for HR that I would like to get started ahead of time.”
“I would tend to agree with that,” said Supervisor Brad Golightly of Perry. “Do we get help from public health nurses, if that’s available as an option, and not just dump it on HR?”
No one from the Dallas County Public Health Department was present at the workshop.
Higley asked Dallas County Attorney Chuck Sinnard whether he was aware of the the stand taken against the OSHA rule by Greene County Attorney Thomas Laehn, who told the Greene County Board of Supervisors Oct. 8 that the federal government is “an agent of tyranny,” and the vaccine mandate is an “unconstitutional rule” and an “egregious abuse of power,” and he “cannot in good conscience follow this rule.”
Sinnard said he was not familiar with Laehn’s opinion.
“He has told their board, ‘Don’t go along with it,'” Higley said, citing a television source that claimed Laehn “recommended they not follow the federal OSHA vaccine mandate.”
According to Greene County Auditor Jane Heun, however, Laehn “did not advise the board to ignore OSHA and do nothing and actually did the opposite. He advised the board to begin drafting a policy relating to the mandate in order to avoid financial liability but stated that he personally could not help with implementing such a policy without violating his oath of office.”
Deardorff said she would leave questions of constitutionality to the lawyers and focus her efforts on the practical administration of the OSHA rule if and when it comes into force.
“I’m just trying to protect the county and follow what this federal law, this TES could potentially be for us,” she said.
The workshop ended with no action from the supervisors beyond giving informal permission to Deardorff to continue preparations.