Montgomery County Courthouse

(Red Oak) -- Like other big employers, Montgomery County officials face the challenge of implementing COVID-19 vaccine regulations for employees.

Preliminary discussion--but no action--took place at the Montgomery County Board of Supervisor's regular meeting Tuesday morning. County Public Health Administrator Samantha Beeson told the supervisors the county is directed to implement an employee vaccine policy per Occupational Safety and Health Administration directives by December 6th--regardless of any court ruling either upholding or striking down OSHA's rules.

"We are being directed to have that done, and proceed like it's going to go through," said Beeson. "Because, come January 4th, I doubt the litigation or whatever they're in right now is going to be completed by then. They're telling us to be ready to go either way--either have the policy, or move along as we've been doing."

Under OSHA's regulations, companies or entities with more than 100 employees must require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or wear facemasks around the work area, or undergo COVID testing. Beeson says one possible snag is that the tests made available to her office through Test Iowa would not be available to county employees.

"These are solely for people who are symptomatic," she said, "because they are going to the State Hygienic Lab in Coralville. So, if we have hundreds more people testing every week, it's going to bog down the lab for people that are truly sick, and needing to get their test results quicker. So, it is going to be up to the employer and employee to decide how they are going to do the testing, where they are going to get the testing, and on who's dime. Is it going to be the employer or employee paying for it?"

Beeson hopes to gather sample policies from other area counties and employers for the supervisors' consideration. After the U.S. 5th Circuit Court issued a stay on OSHA's vaccine mandate earlier this month, the matter was referred to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We're kind of on uncharted territory--everybody knows that," said Assistant Montgomery County Attorney Bruce Swanson. "There's nothing that can be done that's not going to be undone by a court somewhere. For that matter, whatever one court does, another court can undo that. It's going on all over the country."

Supervisors Chair Donna Robinson says emails have been sent to county employees, alerting them of the possible mandates. She says implementing a vaccine policy will be a challenge for the county.

"I'm sure we all have thoughts and opinions on it, but this has to be done," said Robinson. "We've been criticized for not having done it yet, so that's why we're on it now. We'll get there."

More discussion regarding a vaccine policy is expected at future supervisors' meetings. Beeson noted the county's COVID vaccination rate is at 51.7%, with 91.3% of the county's 65-and-over population fully immunized. She says Montgomery County is one of the few counties in Iowa where the vaccination level of residents 65-and-over exceeds 90%.

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