Columbia businesses and organizations offered mixed responses to President Joe Biden’s sweeping new vaccine rules, but a sense of uncertainty prevailed.
“We’re just not going to know a lot until we actually see regulations coming from the Department of Labor,” said Scott Clardy, assistant director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services.
Biden’s new pandemic prevention effort focuses on unvaccinated Americans.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said in the White House briefing room. “We still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.”
The rules come as part of a six-pillar plan to minimize the effects of the delta variant. The plan will focus on keeping schools open, increasing testing, requiring masking, protecting economic recovery and improving health care.
Central to the plan, the Department of Labor will issue an emergency rule to all businesses with 100 or more employees and require vaccinations or weekly testing. According to the White House, more than 80 million employees will be affected.
For businesses and public organizations in the Columbia area, there is confusion about a lack of direction in the mandate. Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Daniel Mehan found it to be vague.
“How does OSHA or the federal government plan on monitoring those hundreds of thousands of employers around the country on this issue?” he said.
“There’s a disincentive to apply for a lot of work at these types of companies now,” Mehan said. He believes the ambiguity of the mandate is problematic because of the way it puts public pressure on private businesses.
“This just says, if you don’t do the vaccine, you will be penalized,” he said. “People don’t like being told what to do. And employers have every right to run their business the way they deem fit.”
Biden called for increased routine testing in schools and announced teacher and staff vaccination mandates for Department of Defense schools, schools under the Bureau of Indian Education and Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The effort will affect an estimated 300,000 employees in the education field and a number of federal institutions.
Head Start, a federal education program for preschool-age students from low-income families, is operated in Columbia through Central Missouri Community Action.
Executive Director Darin Preis said there’s a need for more information from the government on the deadlines for the vaccination mandate, but Head Start intends to comply.
“That’s ultimately our goal,” Preis said Friday. “We do what we need to do to get through the pandemic.”
As an employer of more than 100 people, Preis said he would have concerns about employees who refuse to get the vaccine.
“If it comes down the way it looks like it will, they may have to face the decision of, do they want to keep working here or go somewhere else?” Preis said.
Preis is unsure how Head Start programs will be directly affected by the policy but said the organization will do what it can to encourage community health.
Whether Columbia Public Schools will be affected by the vaccine rules is currently unknown. In an email, Michelle Baumstark, chief communications officer for Columbia Public Schools, said the COVID-19 plan that will be considered by the school board Monday does not have vaccine mandate information.
It’s unclear how these orders will affect MU, spokesperson Christian Basi said.
“The university is reviewing the orders currently and determining if or how they might impact the university,” Basi said. “There are multiple orders that did come out that we have to carefully review.”