Orange County officials still aren’t sure when or exactly how the incoming federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates will be implemented on the county workforce.
Meanwhile, Stanton City Council members may be among the county’s first in considering a vaccine requirement of their own. Santa Ana council members are also considering such a move.
At a White House speech last Thursday, President Joe Biden announced incoming sweeping vaccine mandates for employers with more than 100 workers.
“Tonight, I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees — who together employ over 80 million workers — to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week. Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this,” Biden said.
At a Friday news briefing, County of Orange CEO Frank Kim said the county workforce will be subject to the federal mandates, but it’s unclear when the mandates will kick in.
“Obviously we are an employer that’s greater than 100. So at the bare minimum we have to develop a plan for weekly testing for those individual employees who are not vaccinated. I think the challenge is we don’t know the effective date,” Kim said.
Information on the White House web page is scarce and there’s no timeline given.
“The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work,” reads an overview of the incoming mandate.
Stanton City Council members are expected to discuss creating their own vaccine mandate at their meeting this Tuesday.
The federal mandate might not apply to Stanton.
According to the State Controller’s website, the city employed 82 people last year.
It’s unclear how many people are currently employed by the city — Stanton City Hall was closed Friday.
OC isn’t alone in grappling with the incoming federal vaccine mandates and the current lack of details surrounding them.
“I was on a call with peers in other counties and we are all struggling with the same questions,” Kim said. “Obviously we will comply, but we still have many questions on how those guidelines will roll out.”
Biden’s series of mandates announced last Thursday comes as the U.S. is wrestling with another COVID-19 surge, with many hospitals reaching their breaking points in certain parts of the country.
Locally, Orange County is seeing a decline in cases.
“Our numbers continue to see a drop across the board,” said Deputy OC Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong at the Friday news briefing. “The positivity rate also dropped from 6.1% last week to 4.9% today.”
As of Friday, there were 426 people hospitalized, including 130 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
That’s down from nearly 600 people hospitalized in late August.
But COVID deaths have been slowly ticking up, including one child who died last month.
“We have confirmed a COVID-related pediatric death in Orange County last month. This was a child under 5 with underlying health conditions,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “This is the second pediatric death in Orange County. The first one occurred in August 2020.”
The virus has now killed 5,299 people.
That’s almost five times more people than the flu kills in two years, on average.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
Chinsio-Kwong said the virus killed 103 people last month “and 96% of these individuals were unvaccinated.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio