MURRAY – As two relatively large employers, the City of Murray and Calloway County government have kept their eyes on the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workplaces with more than 100 employees. With a legal challenge to the mandate currently making its way through the federal court system, though, the mandate is on hold for now.

President Joe Biden announced in September that the federal government would require all private employers with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccines or weekly testing, and that the new rule would be enforced through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Earlier this month, the administration set Jan. 4 as the deadline for enforcement of the mandate.

However, according to thehill.com, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week after Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Utah and South Carolina sued the administration that the mandate was “fatally flawed” and ordered that OSHA not enforce the requirement “pending adequate judicial review” of a motion for a permanent injunction.

The court said OSHA should “take no steps to implement or enforce the mandate until further court order,” The Hill reported.

“The court ordered that OSHA ‘take no steps to implement or enforce’ the ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) ‘until further court order,’” OSHA said in a statement. “While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.” 

Regardless of what the court – possibly the U.S. Supreme Court if the case reaches that level – eventually decides, Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes said Friday that he doesn’t think the rule would apply to the county in the first place. He said that although the county has more than 100 employees when taken as a whole, it is divided into several different offices overseen by six elected constitutional officers. 

“The sheriff’s office has their employees, the clerk’s office and the jail have theirs, we’ve got the general (fiscal) court employees, which would include the road department,” Imes said. “But when you divide them up, we don’t have 100 in each category, so we can make that call. Unless we’re forced to by executive order, law or whatever, I don’t think we will plan on mandating vaccines. If a court says, ‘Yes, all of Calloway County has to be considered as one unit and you have over 100 employees, then yes, we’ll have to, but as far as me issuing an executive order to that effect, I won’t be doing that.

Imes said he has been trying to stay informed on the issue and the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) has been keeping him and County Attorney Bryan Ernstberger briefed. Imes said he wants the public to be protected and he would encourage citizens to get the shot, but he doesn’t want to force anyone to do something they feel strongly against. Although the county does not keep a record of how many employees have been vaccinated, he estimated that probably half or more of the county’s employees are.

Murray Mayor Bob Rogers said Friday that he and other city administrators have also been paying close attention as the new rule has rolled out.

“The way I understand it, if it does go into effect, anybody that has over 100 employees has to mandate vaccination or be subject to once-a-week tests,” he said. “If that (enforcement) were to happen, we would have to make that decision; and it would be a hard decision because if I have firefighters who refuse to get vaccinated, I can’t protect the people (as well from fires and other emergencies).”

Rogers said the city also doesn’t keep any record of how many employees are vaccinated, but he estimated it is about 75%.

“We were told in the past that you can’t ask, but I do have a policy that if you haven’t been vaccinated, you have to wear a mask,” he said. “So I can tell who’s wearing masks at the places I go, but that’s only if you’re inside. We haven’t had a big issue, but like anywhere else, there are some that are just adamant against getting it done for different reasons.”