Story County Supervisors hold off on requiring employee vaccination, negative tests

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Story County supervisors went against a Story County Board of Health recommendation in tabling a motion to enact a vaccine mandate for county employees Tuesday.

In an Oct. 8 letter to the Board of Supervisors, the county Board of Health recommended the supervisors require all county employees to provide proof of vaccination or submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test if they're unvaccinated on a weekly basis.

Story County Board of Health Chair John Paschen also appealed to the board at its meeting Tuesday, but the supervisors ultimately decided to await the outcome of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.

"I know everyone's afraid of getting sued, but as a physician, something I learned very quickly, you can get sued for anything at any time," Paschen said. "You have to kind of consider this is the right thing to do."

COVID-19's highly transmissible omicron variant has led to a surge in cases across the U.S. in recent weeks. The Board of Health argued in their letter that a mandate would create a safer work environment and, with each organization that takes this course of action, it adds "impetus and strength to widespread vaccination."

Related: Vaccinated and test positive? What to know about omicron, COVID for this holiday season.

If enacted, the policy would not have affected all Story County employees, as those working for other elected officials — about 50% of those employed by the county — could opt out if the elected official chooses.

"We don't have to have authority," Supervisor Latifah Faisal said. "So we will potentially be looking at a policy that applies to only part of the county."

Faisal said she was concerned with losing employees who might choose to work somewhere without a mandate at the same time the country faces a nationwide staffing shortage. While a concern for all organizations, Paschen said there haven't been reports of mass exoduses of employees at any organization that's enacted a similar mandate.

Paschen said the option for weekly negative COVID-19 tests should squash any question of legality.

"There's nothing in those laws that state you can't require them to test," Paschen said.

Related: Supreme Court refuses to block New York's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for doctors, nurses

County Attorney Timothy Meals recommended waiting until after Dec. 30, when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make a decision.

"I think the best course of action is to wait for this issue to work through the courts," Meals said.

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.