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Employers await official OSHA guidance on COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers

The mandate would apply to employers with 100 or more employees. If workers don't comply they would be subjected to increased testing.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There is still a lot of reaction to the announcement from the Biden Administration to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees who work at companies with 100 or more workers or to be subjected to weekly testing.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Tops Markets says until the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate becomes official, Tops will continue to monitor the guidance and comply accordingly. 

Here's the full statement: "Tops continues to follow the Hero Act requirements to ensure the safety of our associates and customers which has been and will always remain a top priority. At this time, President Biden’s ideas remain a proposal. Until it becomes an official governmental mandate, we will continue to monitor the guidance and comply accordingly."

M&T Bank, while not reacting directly to the mandate, says in a statement that it strongly encourages employees who haven't already been vaccinated to get vaccinated.

Western New York's chamber of commerce supports the vaccine mandate. 

"Generally speaking, employers are not in favor of mandates, right? But in this particular case where we have such concern about the health and safety of all workers that this is a welcome level setting, that will help, I think, employers to get back to whatever the new normal is going to be," said Dottie Gallagher, the president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said several months ago that federal employment laws do not stop employers from requiring their employees physically inside to be vaccinated so long as employers follow parts of the American Disabilities Act and civil rights law. 

Some major corporations such as Walmart have mandated the vaccine for employees.

The mandate is coming at a time when many employers still have a lot of job openings.  

"It doesn't matter if it's a small business, it doesn't matter what industry you're in large employers everybody from the tech jobs at M&T to restaurants needing waiters it is across the board a challenge," Gallagher said.

On Friday, UB and Erie County's health commissioner Gale Burstein held a COVID briefing in which they didn't directly address the mandate but once again urged people to get vaccinated. 

"What we really, really need is we need to get everybody vaccinated now so they're fully protected by the time the fall comes and by the time people are moving indoors," said Dr. Peter Winkelstein, director of University at Buffalo's Institute for Healthcare Informatics and clinical professor of pediatrics at UB. 

We still haven't received OSHA's official rule on the vaccine mandate. 

According to the state's vaccine tracker, 66 percent of Western New Yorkers 18 years old and older are fully vaccinated. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on the state's tracker shows that percentage statewide to be higher at 72 percent.

The mandate is coming as many employers locally and nationally continue to need more workers filling job openings.