Nevada schools approve vaccine mandate for staff in line with OSHA guidance, which could go into effect Monday

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

Nevada school employees will either have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative for the disease on a weekly basis before reporting to work starting next week — although the policy hinges on any action the U.S. Supreme Court may take regarding federal guidelines adopted by the district's school board Monday night.

The school board voted 3-2 Monday to approve a policy that incorporates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's requirement that employers with 100 or more employees be vaccinated against the disease or have to be tested each week, with exceptions.

The definition of vaccination does not include booster shots — only a single dose or two doses, depending on what's required by the type of vaccine.

In addition to testing, employees who are not vaccinated will also have to wear face masks at all times while indoors, in vehicles or other enclosed spaces.

Employees who fail to meet the requirement may face disciplinary action, including being fired, according to the policy.

Nevada Superintendent Steve Gray said the standard will be will enforced by OSHA unless otherwise halted in court.

The federal mandate had been on hold until last month, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District in Cincinnati reversed a district court decision made after 27 Republican-led states — including Iowa — conservative groups, business associations and some individual companies challenged the mandate, according to the Associated Press.

More:COVID vaccine cocktails: A guide to mixing and matching Pfizer, Moderna, J&J booster shots

With no halt on the mandate, OSHA said it would not issue citations on the vaccination mandate before Jan. 10 — six days later than previously planned.

The U.S. Department of Labor said it won’t take action on the testing rules until Feb. 9 — more than a month later than originally planned — as long as an employer “is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance.”

Nevada had previously tabled discussion of the mandate due to the earlier court hold on it, but Gray said Monday that with the mandate so far moving forward after the appeals court ruling, action had to be taken to protect the district from potentially serious fines from OSHA.

Gray also said that the Iowa Association of School Boards advised that the policy be put in place in time to meet next week's deadline.

Tammy Votava, a spokesperson for the school board association, said while there are some districts in the state with fewer than 100 people on payroll — for which the mandate would not apply — the rest will have to gather employees' vaccination status, requests for medical or religious accommodations or weekly testing results.

Some uncertainty remains, however, because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments Friday about whether the vaccine mandate should be halted again.

More:Supreme Court to hear arguments in challenges to Biden vaccine-or-testing mandates on Jan. 7

In the meantime, Story County's supervisors also approved implementation of the mandate for all county employees, as well, Tuesday.

In their written recommendation for the policy, ahe Story County Board of Health argued 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."

The Biden administration’s mandate is expected to cover about 84 million U.S. workers, and officials have estimated that the mandate would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations nationwide over six months.

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.