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Biden’s new COVID-19 plan comes with mixed reactions from Utah leaders, questions of legality

Posted at 9:20 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 10:04:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden announced a new six-pronged plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday afternoon. As part of the approach, businesses with more than 100 employees would need to either mandate the vaccine or require a minimum of weekly testing for employees. The new approach has been met with both praise and criticism.

Read - Biden lays out 6-pronged plan to combat COVID this fall

Several Utah lawmakers responded to the president’s plan including Governor Spencer Cox.

“Getting vaccinated is the single most important thing people can do right now to protect ourselves and our community and reduce the spread of the Delta variant. While we support efforts that encourage vaccinations, we have serious concerns about the legality of the order,” a statement from the governor’s office read.

Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes released a statement saying in part, “Regardless of where you stand on vaccinations overall, the federal government should not be able to mandate such a personal medical decision to employers and individuals.”

The President said this new approach will help get America out of the pandemic, calling it a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

"Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free," Biden said.

The question of legality looms, but should be answered soon, Spencer D. Phillips, Attorney Employer-Lawyer, said.

“I think those legal challenges are going to be filed the same day the rule becomes effective, and I think the courts are going to turn their utmost attention to this and give us an answer right away,” he said.

Read - Utah lawmaker wants businesses requiring vaccine to be held liable for any negative side effects

According to the Utah Department of Workforce services, there are more than two thousand Utah businesses with more than 100 employees. Rancho Market is one of those, with around 500 employees, C.O.O. Richard Harwood said.

Rancho Market has obeyed all the COVID-19 laws so far, he said. Right now, masks are welcomed but not required, and vaccines are encouraged but not mandated, Harwood said.

“Our official philosophy is we keep and obey and sustain the law. So, as the mandates have come out, we have applied them all,” he said.

When it comes to the president’s announcement Thursday, Harwood said they are waiting to learn more.

“A mandate like that needs to be tested, this is an untested mandate, and I am not sure how legal it is. And our official position remains the same, if it is legal, we will comply,” he said.

Read - Children now make up 1-in-4 COVID-19 cases in Utah

It would be premature for employers to be making a plan right away on the new orders, Phillips said. There are still many questions to be answered.

“I think there is a really good chance there is going to be a federal judge somewhere who is going to say this is an overreach, this is unconstitutional and then it will have to make its way up through the court of appeals and possibly to the supreme court before we get a definite answer whether this is something, he can even do in the first place,” he said.

Vaccines are a decision that should be made between a person and their doctor, Harwood said.

“Personally, I am vaccinated. Have been since virtually day one. We encourage everyone else to be vaccinated but that is a personal choice,” he said. Adding Rancho Market has offered vaccine clinics almost weekly.

To read the president’s full plan, click here.