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Employers try to navigate new rules for COVID vaccines

Judge blocks medical workers vaccine mandate in New York state
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 1:35 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2021 at 4:53 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - A judge has put on hold New York’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. Seventeen workers sued the state saying the mandate violates their constitutional rights because it doesn’t allow for religious exemptions.

But that’s not the only mandate employers are trying to navigate. President Biden wants everyone who works for a company with 100 employees or more to be vaccinated or undergo routine testing.

Businesses in the North Country have more questions than answers when it comes to the new federal vaccination or testing requirements and that testing requirement could end up problematic in rural parts of the state.

Last Thursday, the president implemented a mandate for vaccinations or weekly testing requirements for any employer with 100-plus employees.

“We need to do more. This is not about freedom or personal choice, it’s about protecting those around you,” Biden said.

It’s unclear how many North Country businesses will be affected because companies still don’t know if the 100 employees are per site or companywide or whether they include only full-time or part-time workers.

The three largest employers in the area are SUNY Plattsburgh, which does require the vaccine; Bombardier, which says it’s still evaluating the new requirements; and the hospital, which under the federal mandate, requires a vaccine with no option of testing.

“We are already extremely stressed staffing-wise,” said Dr. Wouter Rietsema, an infectious disease specialist at CVPH.

Rietsema says rural New York lacks access to COVID testing, which soon will be required for certain businesses under the new federal mandate.

“The availability of testing in rural parts of New York is woefully inadequate,” Rietsema said.

Because the state is no longer in a state of emergency, it’s lost all of the contracts with labs that would take the mass-scale testing and test it on New York’s dime.

Now there are no walk-in sites in the region and some sites, like CVPH’s on Hammond Lane, require a doctor’s note to go there.

“Our testing capability is stretched to its limit,” Rietsema said.

All tests are run through insurance and a bill could come depending on the insurance provider protocols.

There are exceptions, like three days a week testing is offered at the health department for those without health insurance or a primary care physician.

“Unless there is some governmental intervention to create testing capacity, this testing mandate will be problematic,” Rietsema said.

Dr. Rietsema says this isn’t a Plattsburgh problem or a CVPH problem when it comes to testing, this is a problem facing the health care industry North Country-wide.

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