By Linda Cicoira
A division continues between local, state, and country-wide residents as to whether they should be required to take COVID-19 vaccines. The surges and various findings also appear to have left top officials in conflict. It’s become a way of life.
The 17.6-mile span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel serves as the Eastern Shore’s main way of passage to the rest of the commonwealth. So, people who live in Accomack and Northampton Counties tend to think the facility belongs to them.
The bridge-tunnel is a large employer with 160 workers, most of whom live on the Shore. It falls within the recently designated employers, those with 100 or more, to be mandated by President Joe Biden and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA, to require vaccination or testing of workers. However, the CBBT’s Commissioners serve at the behest of the Governor of Virginia.
There are 160 employees at the CBBT. More than 90 percent have been vaccinated, according to Tom Anderson, a spokesperson for the facility. That leaves about 15 workers who haven’t taken the vaccine. The figures are in line with many Fortune 500 organizations.
Bridge-tunnel staff had prepared to initiate a plan to follow the president’s rule, estimated by OSHA to cover nearly 80 million U.S. workers.
The CBBT’s plan was in place when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the proposal, despite that surges in cases and hospitalizations had reached a new record high as a result of the Omicron variant.
Congress may have given OSHA the power to regulate workplace dangers, the court explained, but it “has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly.” The justices voted to enforce the proposal for health-care workers at facilities that receive federal funding.
OSHA officially pulled the plan Tuesday following the high court’s ruling.
Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin started his four-year term by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school. On the Eastern Shore that mandate was disputed by the two public school divisions, which are still requiring that masks be worn by teachers, students, and visitors.
Youngkin also stopped the mandate that required state employees to be vaccinated.
When the CBBT commission met recently, members were told that the plan was still in place and of staff’s recommendation to continue to require testing be performed on those who had not been vaccinated for a few weeks “until the case numbers in our community declined and to then stop,” said Anderson. The commission did not actually vote on the issue but “generally appeared to be unanimously in agreement,” Anderson added.
The testing must be a PCR test and not the type that is self-administered, Anderson continued. “They can do it wherever they want.” However, “since testing has been difficult to find over the last couple of weeks,” Anderson said, special testing was set up at Rural Health in Eastville on Mondays.
Those who are off work, are doing the tests on their own time. Others who work during those hours have opted to take their paid time off to do the testing, Anderson said.