Central Iowa cities, school districts mixed on compliance with federal COVID-19 vaccine rules

OSHA announced last month that it would begin issuing citations to organizations or companies with 100 employees or more that don't comply with a vaccine requirement by Monday or testing rules by Feb. 9.

Sarah Kay LeBlanc
Des Moines Register

Days before a federal coronavirus vaccine mandate was set to take effect nationwide for employers with 100 or more workers, administrators of central Iowa counties, cities and schools were scrambling to determine the best course of action.

Many are waiting for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments Friday on whether the federal requirements should go forward.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had announced in December that it would begin issuing citations to organizations or companies that do not comply with the vaccine requirement on Monday, and that haven't begun to comply with the testing rules by Feb. 9. That timeline has since slid back a month.

Though a federal appeals court in December lifted a former ruling that blocked the mandate from taking effect, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are still making plans to fight back against the requirements. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement after the court's ruling that she had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the mandate.

And in an announcement late Friday, Iowa's labor commissioner said that Iowa OSHA had submitted notice that it would not be adopting or enforcing the Biden administration's vaccine and testing requirements for large employers.

The federal requirement would cover about 84 million workers and directs employers to either have all employees vaccinated or require workers to wear face masks and submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.

Here's where a sampling of central Iowa city and school districts stand on the mandate:

Des Moines

The city of Des Moines has not yet implemented a vaccination program or testing mandate. City officials say there is a drafted policy that, depending on any action taken by the Supreme Court, would require vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated city employees.

In the meantime, the city launched a vaccination reporting system Thursday, asking all city employees to report their vaccination status and upload their vaccine cards using newly implemented verification software. According to a city spokesperson, through summary health records and onsite vaccination clinics, officials estimate roughly 76% of Des Moines city staff is fully vaccinated.


The city of Ames notified employees earlier this month that they would need to follow the federal mandate by reporting their vaccination status.

Unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks while at work and begin testing for COVID-19 on a weekly basis by Feb. 9, according to an email to city staff.

The Ames school district informed staff about the vaccination and testing requirements before winter break, according to a district spokesperson, who said the district has implemented a procedure where employees can submit their vaccination status, and district staff plan on presenting the policy to the school board soon.

The administration has been distributing Test Iowa kits to staff since September. It does not currently require vaccines for staff or students.


The Ankeny School District voted to immediately require all staff members to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing ahead of the federal regulations, but later voted to suspend the policy after receiving more information from the state.

More:Amid conflicting state, federal stances, Ankeny, Waukee, Ames school boards split on COVID vaccine mandate for staff


The city of Indianola does not have a vaccine mandate in place and also plans to wait on the Supreme Court's decision before acting on OSHA's regulations.

Charlie Dissell, the director of community and economic development, said the city doesn't want to make a decision and then have to change it based on court rulings. The only mandates the city has for employees is that they must provide a positive lab test if workers miss a day due to COVID. They must then provide proof of a negative test result before returning to work.

The school district, on the other hand, planned to enact policy to bring it into compliance with OSHA's regulations, Superintendent Art Sathoff said Wednesday.


Johnston plans to comply with OSHA requirements and will allow for weekly testing for unvaccinated city employees, city spokesperson Janet Wilwerding said Wednesday.

The school district is waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court.

District spokesperson Lynn Meadows said there would be exemptions to the testing and mask requirements for medical and religious reasons.


All city of Urbandale employees are required to submit a declaration of vaccination status form and proof of vaccination to the city's Human Resource Department, spokesperson Derek Zarn said Wednesday.

Starting Sunday, all unvaccinated employees were going to be required to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly. However, the city has "decided not to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations" and will instead enforce weekly testing and mask mandates for unvaccinated workers, Zarn said.

The school district is "actively preparing" to be in compliance with the OSHA regulations, said spokesperson Dena Claire. A proposed vaccine policy was going to be brought before the school board on Monday.


City spokesperson Summer Evans said city staff were developing a policy regarding COVID-19 vaccines and testing protocols, and the policy would be presented to the City Council "in the near future."

The city plans to wait on a Supreme Court ruling, however, before taking any action.

The school district has a policy on the agenda for Monday's meeting that would bring it into compliance with OSHA guidelines.

The Waukee school district put an employee vaccine and testing policy in place that would be suspended if the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal rules.

West Des Moines

Like Des Moines, West Des Moines plans to wait to make a decision on compliance with federal vaccine regulations until the Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue.

City spokesperson Lucinda Stephenson said about 83% of city employees are vaccinated, and staff has created a draft policy that is still being reviewed. All employees are required to wear masks in city buildings.

Polk County

The Polk County Board of Supervisors has had a policy in place since September requiring all county employees to either get vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test every week in order to work. Testing was to begin among all departments by Sept. 30.

More:Polk County administrator scolds sheriff — and threatens his budget — over failing to test employees for COVID

Dallas County

According to the Dallas County Board of Supervisors, there are no current policies for county employees regarding COVID-19 vaccines or testing protocols. Human resources director Beth Deardorff said she will bring a proposed draft policy to the board at its meeting Tuesday for further discussion.

North Polk schools

The school board adopted a vaccine and testing policy, but the district paused action on it after Iowa OSHA announced it would not enforce the federal rules.

Saydel schools

The Saydel school board removed an item about putting a vaccine and testing policy in place at its meeting on Monday

Story County

The Story County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide a weekly negative test.

Register reporters Melody Mercado, Chris Higgins and Teresa Albertson and Ames Tribune reporters Phillip Sitter and Dani Gehr contributed to this report.

More:Story County supervisors enact COVID vaccine mandate for county staff in line with new OSHA standards

Sarah LeBlanc covers the western suburbs for the Register. Reach her at 515-284-8161 or sleblanc@registermedia.com. Follower her on Twitter at @sarahkayleblanc