MONTPELIER – State officials sought to educate and reassure business leaders on Monday in a webinar focused on potential tactics to get workers to get vaccinated and boost against the coronavirus.
The session was the next step in an awareness campaign led by the National Agency for Trade and Community Development to gain buy-in from employers to encourage – but not impose – labor policies requiring workers get vaccinated and get vaccinated.
A note sent to businesses in Vermont on Thursday by Agency Secretary Lindsay Kurrle recommended vaccination and recall requirements. He also suggested that businesses like performance venues, bars and clubs consider asking customers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
Kurrle, who hosted the hour-long webinar, said up front that the state expects holiday gatherings to lead to more new cases of COVID, which has reached its highest level of new cases and hospitalizations in the past two months.
But she also sought to assure attendees that tougher rules are not in sight.
“These are not warrants. They do not foreshadow a lockdown either,” she said.
On the contrary, she said: “We strongly encourage you to adopt policies regardless of their size or as necessary. As an employer you have a responsibility to mitigate a known hazard”, a- she added.
But there is one potential way the state could require vaccinations: if Uncle Sam says so.
Asked by a participant if Vermont would follow suit if the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration passed a rule requiring companies with 100 or more workers to vaccinate, Steve Monahan, director of workers’ compensation and safety at the Department of Labor , answered yes.
âA Vermont rule isn’t in place. But it will be 30 days after federal OSHA tells us to,â Monahan said.
Monahan further clarified that such a rule would apply to any Vermont employer with 100 or more workers, whether it is headquartered here or elsewhere.
He also said it was the right time to put a focus on occupational health and safety around COVID-19 and also at work, to reduce the number of preventable hospitalizations in the state.
Much of the meeting focused on how the state, with around 9,000 employees, achieved compliance from 91% of its workers – and used this example to describe the challenges private companies could be facing. faced.
Kristen Clouser, the Vermont administration secretary, noted that the state had asked its employees for written certifications that they had received at least one dose of vaccine rather than proof of vaccination.
It did so, Clouser said, because the former would not require building a secure platform where personal health information would be stored, and because as a nationwide employer State, online compliance made the most sense. The cooperation of the unions which represent most of the state’s workers has also been helpful, she said.
With that in mind, companies need to be aware of how they will reach their employees and how they will collect and store private medical information, she said.
âHow you communicate and when to give employees is an important consideration,â she added.
Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Jenny Samuelsson reviewed testing and vaccination options – those offered by the state and those companies could pursue on their own. The costs are not negligible: Rapid response antigen tests cost up to $ 20 each, she said, while PCR tests cost around $ 50 each, because they have to be sent to a lab.
This prompted a question in the chat – one that was left unanswered as the presenters ran out of time.
âSo if you have about 9% to test, about 900 employees,â said a participant named Brian. âIf they choose the PCR test, your numbers say it could cost the state over $ 40,000 a week. How is that sustainable? Why hasn’t the state adopted a full mandate similar to federal rules? Make vaccination mandatory. “
The state reported 242 new cases of COVID on Monday, including 55 people in hospital and 19 in intensive care.