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COVID-19 Workplace Safety Update

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 Vaccinations and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review on October 12, 2021. To gain insight into how OSHA may enforce the anticipated COVID-19 Vaccinations and Testing ETS, see the Vaccinations webpage on the Safer Federal Workforce website established by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and General Services Administration (GSA). The webpage identifies acceptable documentation to prove vaccination status under the “Vaccination Documentation and Information” tab, and states that an antibody test is not adequate, presumably because at least one recent study shows that unvaccinated individuals who recovered from COVID-19 are twice as likely to be re-infected with COVID-19 as individuals who have been vaccinated. The webpage also provides suggested templates for the criteria to be used in assessing the validity of claims for a medical exemption or religious exemption from vaccination under the “Limited Exceptions to Vaccination Requirement” tab. That tab also identifies, in a summary manner that does not include the full details, medical conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers a contraindication to vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines and medical circumstances for which the CDC recommends delaying vaccination for COVID-19.

President Biden’s September 9, 2021 announcement stated that the testing alternative would require testing at least weekly. This may be the issue that delays adoption of the ETS while the Administration determines the appropriate balance between safety, compliance costs (and who will bear them), and personal choice. A recent Washington Post article written by two professors of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at the University of California San Diego is titled “Weekly Coronavirus Tests are a Terrible Substitute for Vaccination - Testing has its place, but it must be done frequently and with other anti-covid measures.” It indicates what appears to be the current practice at major colleges of requiring vaccination for those without a medical or religious exemption, and testing twice a week for students and staff who are not vaccinated.