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President Joe Biden announced a new COVID-19 federal mandate Thursday that is sure to have a huge impact on businesses and healthcare facilities, but as for how that will play out locally remains uncertain.

Biden announced employees of businesses with more than 100 employees and healthcare facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid have their employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, or, do weekly tests for the virus.

Most local managers and employees who agreed to talk on the record said they hadn’t heard anything from their higher ups or corporate bosses about the mandate yet.

“As of right now, we’re just following our COVID guidelines,” said Susan Tefft, the manager of Tractor Supply Co. in Thatcher.

Tefft said the only word she got from her corporate higher ups is the mandate probably wouldn’t affect them, although the company’s website says they have about 45,000 “team members.”

Many local chain stores and corporate businesses, with thousands of employees across their many stores and offices across the country are locally owned franchises though, like BeeHive Homes of the Gila Valley in Thatcher, Big O Tires in Safford and the Carl’s Jr. in Safford.

“The employees have been really receptive with us in regards to the vaccine,” said Berni Chacon, the manager of Safford’s Carl’s Jr.

Corporate policy is that all employees, whether they’re vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, still have to wear masks while on the job, he said. The restaurant does still have some employees who are not vaccinated, but he has not gotten word from corporate whether the mandate will require those employees to get vaccinated.

As of right now, the president’s mandate does not have any hard deadline, or much in the way of written rules and requirements. The White House’s official website, whitehouse.gov, does say that The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is developing the rules of the mandate.

The Associated Press reported an administration official said OSHA’s rule will include a $14,000 per violation penalty for businesses that do not follow the mandate.

The AP also reported that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will also extend a requirement ordered earlier in the year for nursing home staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and other healthcare providers like people who work in hospitals, home-health agencies and dialysis centers to also get vaccinated. The Department of Health and Human Services will also require employees of Head Start Programs and schools run by the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Education to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as well.

The mandate also requires employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government to get vaccinated as well, without the option to get tested regularly. Contractors and people who work in the executive branch will be given the right to seek religious and medical exemptions though.

The mandate is estimated to affect close to 100 million Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 209.4 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 178.7 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

While nearly 56% of Arizonans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, just under 48% of people in Graham County and under 37% in Greenlee County are.

Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 continues to increase across the country and the vast majority of them are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. Biden said the federal mandate is being put in to place specifically to further combat the Delta variant of COVID-19.

“The path ahead, even with the Delta variant, is not nearly as bad as last winter. But what makes it incredibly more frustrating is that we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans –supported by a distinct minority of elected officials — are keeping us from turning the corner. These pandemic politics, as I refer to, are making people sick, causing unvaccinated people to die,” Biden said in a speech on Thursday. “We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal.”

The announcement of the mandate immediately drew protests from mostly conservative figures from around the country, like Texas Governor Greg Abbot and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, but also from police and firefighter unions across the country. Some hospital and maternity ward workers in New York have also protested against previously issued state and local vaccine mandates.

Local reaction

Here too in Graham County, some people are not pleased.

Josh Hollar, the front end manager at Walmart said he hadn’t heard from his higher ups or corporate about how Walmart was going to handle the federal mandate. Even though the company has offered people $150 bonuses to get vaccinated, Hollar said a lot of employees don’t want to get vaccinated and he personally doesn’t think the vaccine is necessary, especially, he said, because people sometimes have to take time off work to recover from the side effects of the vaccine.

The federal mandate, according to the AP, will also require companies provide paid time off for employees who get vaccinated.

More so, Hollar said, he just doesn’t believe the vaccine works.

Dr. Fred Fox, Greenlee County Health Department’s medical director, said he’s seen an increase in people coming in to get vaccinated as the Delta variant continues to spread throughout both Greenlee and Graham County and hurt people, especially people that have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I think they’re worried about Delta, and they should be,” Fox said.

With more people coming in, Fox said he sees a number of people who are worried about the vaccine, either because of its temporary side effects or misinformation they’ve heard from people or seen online or on TV.

“Basically I tell them that the vaccine has shown to be overwhelmingly safe. A lot safer than getting COVID,” Fox said. And not just the immediate effects, which could land people in the hospital, or worse, dead, but the still little understood long term effects of COVID-19 in people who recover from the virus, which include long term problems in people’s lungs, heart, kidneys, blood circulation and even neurological and mental health problems, Fox said.

Out of the 176 million Americans that have been fully vaccinated, 14,115 people either were hospitalized or died after contracting COVID-19 in what are called “breakthrough” cases, according to the CDC.

In May the CDC identified 28 Americans who developed Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, a blood clot in the brain’s blood drainage system after taking the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, three of whom died, out of almost 14 million people who’ve taken the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. More than 656,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. More than four million people have died, worldwide, because of the virus.

“I don’t try to criticize people. I tell people my own experience with the vaccine, that I took it,” Fox said, “and the safety has been overwhelmingly demonstrated.”

As far as the brief, mild, symptoms that people sometimes experience after taking the vaccine, Fox said “that comes with my immune system working.”

“I do believe strongly that vaccinations and other public health measures are important for getting us through this pandemic,” Fox said.

“People can protect themselves by getting vaccinated and other mitigation efforts like wearing a mask, washing their hands and socially distancing,” said Brian Douglas, Graham County’s Health Department director.

Both Fox and Douglas, Graham County’s Health Department director, said both counties’ health departments have the capacity to vaccinate all residents of their respective counties.

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