After the recent Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, federal employees and contractors can expect tighter vaccine requirements.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in an Aug. 23 media briefing that she expects additional vaccine mandates for factions of federal employees.
“I think you’re looking more at agency to agency or different factions of the government at this point, but expect there will be more on that front,” Psaki said.
Federal contractors are currently asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated has been required to wear a mask on the job and comply with a weekly or twice-weekly screening testing requirement since July. They may also be subject to restrictions on official travel.
The federal government employs more than 4 million people and 2 million of those people are in the federal civilian workforce. The government’s vaccination policies seem to be having an impact in eastern Idaho, which is home to a high number of federal employees and contractors.
At Idaho National Laboratory, about two-thirds of contractors are vaccinated, according to information the lab gave to the Post Register. The number of contractors who have received a first dose of a vaccine has gone up sharply over the last week, shortly after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 23.
INL requires any employee not fully vaccinated to get tested every week, per federal guidelines. The Department of Energy pays for the tests, and the lab keeps track of employee vaccination status on an online portal.
INL employs approximately 5,336 people, who are contracted by Battelle Energy Alliance. The lab estimates an additional 1,000 people conduct contracting work at the lab’s site.
INL is just one of the many organizations in the region with federal employees and contractors. Others include the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the United States Geological Survey and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Bruce Hallman, BLM’s Idaho Falls District public affairs officer, said the FDA approval hasn’t made a significant difference in the percentage of employees choosing to be vaccinated. He did not have any statistics to share on employee vaccinations but said most bureau employees have been inoculated.
“In general, most people that I come in contact with are fully vaccinated,” Hallman said.
The BLM uses a spreadsheet to track employees that enter the office to conduct contact tracing if an employee tests positive, he said.
BLM employees are required to wear masks when interacting with the public, Hallman said. There is some leeway when workers are outdoors and can socially distance.
“Nobody wants to be the mask police or the enforcer of that kind of thing,” he said. “We just expect people to be respectful of that and respectful of each other.”
Other organizations have begun to require vaccinations. Los Alamos National Laboratory announced on Aug. 23 that it was requiring its entire workforce to be fully vaccinated. INL has not announced any mandates beyond what is required of the lab federally.
Vaccine mandates have also started taking hold in the private sector.
In eastern Idaho, the Idaho Falls Symphony is requiring musicians and staff to be vaccinated. The Post Register reported on Aug. 23 that social distancing and mask requirements among audience members may become part of the symphony’s reopening process. The symphony is not requiring audience members to be vaccinated.
In the Treasure Valley, the Treefort Music Fest, Idaho’s largest music festival, which takes place later this month, is requiring attendees to be vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter the event. And in Nampa, Thursday night’s Jonas Brothers concert at the Ford Idaho Center required audience members to have proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of the concert. That was the group’s requirement, not the venue’s.
While some hospitals in the Boise area are requiring vaccinations among employees, hospital officials in eastern Idaho recently told the Post Register they would not mandate a COVID-19 vaccine.
Most businesses that have announced vaccine requirements for employees are national brands including CVS Health, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Walmart and Tyson Foods, among others.