San Juan County's new policy for employees halted due to Supreme Court's COVID-19 ruling
Commission adopted policy Jan. 4, but it will be rescinded by county manager
FARMINGTON — A COVID-19 testing and reporting policy adopted earlier this month by the San Juan County Commission effectively has been suspended after the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 13 ruled in favor of challengers to the federal health and safety requirements upon which the measure was based.
The 6-3 Supreme Court decision struck down a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard. The standard applied to all companies or entities that employ more than 100 people and required all those workers to report their COVID-19 vaccination status by Jan. 10. It also required unvaccinated employees to begin wearing a facemask in the workplace and to submit to weekly testing in February.
The County Commission unanimously adopted a measure on Jan. 4 that would bring the county in compliance with that standard. During the meeting, County Manager Mike Stark and Commissioner Steve Lanier said the commission was pursuing the measure reluctantly and only out of a desire to avoid the hefty fines that OSHA could have levied against entities that remained out of compliance with the standard after the Jan. 10 reporting deadline.
The measure adopted by the County Commission included a provision that the county manager would be able to suspend or rescind the ordinance in the event of a court ruling against the OSHA standard.
County spokesman Devin Neeley said the new policy effectively has been suspended because of the court ruling, although Stark will need to officially rescind it later. He said the county manager was out of town when the court ruling was issued Jan. 13. But he said no immediate action is required by the county because it did not face another deadline related to the policy until Feb. 9, when unvaccinated county employees would need to begin their weekly testing.
Neeley said the county had made a good-faith effort to comply with the policy's first deadline, which required that county employees report their vaccination status by Jan. 10. He said nearly all county employees had met that deadline, although the status of a handful of employees who were on vacation or leave remained open. County officials were working to resolve those situations when the Supreme Court issued its Jan. 13 ruling.
"We were in compliance," Neeley said. "There was good compliance across the board. County employees did their part."
Under the terms of the OSHA emergency temporary standard, the County Commission also could have adopted a mandatory vaccination policy for its employees. But Stark explained during the Jan. 4 meeting that there was no support for that idea among commissioners.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.