With more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 due to the omicron variant, the Supreme Court Friday reviewed two challenges to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.
“Really what we’re arguing about is the power of the federal government to institute requirements related to the pandemic,” said Louis Virelli, Law Professor at Stetson University College of Law.
One measure requires large private companies to require all employees to be vaccinated or enforce masking and weekly testing for unvaccinated employees.
The rules were set to take effect on Jan. 4. Challengers argue that the mandate is a vast overreach.
Virelli said while the federal government has never before tried to impose a vaccine policy on workers, OSHA does have the authority by Congress to do so.
“The statute says that they have the ability to enter an emergency temporary standard that lasts for six months when there’s a grave danger and the standard is necessary to combat it,” Virelli said.
A second measure requires vaccinations for healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal funding. Challengers say the policy will lead to worker shortages.
How does that impact facilities here in the Tampa Bay area?
ABC Action News did some digging and, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, only four out of 146 nursing homes in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties reported having 100% of the staff fully vaccinated. Twenty have vaccination rates above 90%.
“Our hospitals have been focused on educating and encouraging their staff to get vaccinated,” said Mary Mayhew, President and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association.
Mayhew said hospitals were working towards compliance with the federal mandate but face conflicting state requirements.
“When the state law was passed, when the legal challenges were established against the federal rules. It has created confusion,” Mayhew said.
The Supreme Court must decide whether to block the vaccine mandate while litigation continues or to let them be implemented during that time.
“This is an unprecedented public health situation and therefore we are in the unprecedented legal territory,” Virelli said.