[COLUMN] COVID goes supercharged in 2022 yet the Supreme Court blocks vaccine, testing mandate for big employers

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JUST when we all hoped and prayed 2022 would be the year we would finally claim back our lives disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, we now face the daunting reality — that the virus is still here, supercharged, reinventing itself into new variants, spreading faster than ever before.

If you are on social media, you just can’t believe how many of our own family and friends have been afflicted, killed, or are battling the war against COVID. The delta variant has been more intense, while the omicron is more transmittable.

We were shocked by the surge of cases involving everyone from different age groups, vaccinated or unvaxxed. Hospitals and ICUs are again overwhelmed just like in the peak of COVID and the delta variant in the past two winters. They are understaffed as well because even the health care workers fighting in the frontline are calling in sick and are COVID-infected.

Businesses are handicapped with a lot of sick employees, leading to empty shelves in the grocery stores, or shortened hours — if not indefinite closure — for others that rely on manpower.

The Biden administration continues to lead the fight against the invisible enemy with even more arsenal in the frontline — making vaccine and the booster more accessible to people, investing in testing and giving these free COVID testing kits to households in order to alert those who are infected to isolate immediately to stop spreading the virus.

But even if we all may feel exasperated and at times in despair, have faith that not all is lost in this battle. Despite the fact that the number of people getting infected by COVID continues to rise, the cases are not all fatal. Those who have been vaccinated without underlying illness or co-morbidities just had mild flu-like symptoms like cold, fever, coughing, while some did not have any symptoms at all (asymptomatic) yet tested positive. They heal and recover faster.

The problem lies with the unvaccinated because they can be infected by vaccinated people who are asymptomatic. They are the ones who have more severe and even fatal symptoms that would require hospitalization, in addition to those who are already chronically ill that needed hospitalization, whether or not there is a pandemic. Then add to these patients who become sick because of the flu season. They are more vulnerable and are again pushing our hospitals, ICUs, medical workers, first responders and essential workers beyond capacity.

This is undeniable proof that VACCINES WORK AND SAVE LIVES! This is why the Biden administration is doing everything to have more people vaccinated (especially because we have the vaccines and the boosters), even with initiatives to mandate vaccination so we can have a higher vaccination rate to save more lives.

Unfortunately — conspiracy theories, politics, superstitions and a fixation on liberty over public safety are getting in the way.

Just last Thursday, January 13, the Supreme Court decided on cases filed against the mandate and blocked the administration “from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, dealing a blow to a key element of the White House’s plan to address the pandemic as coronavirus cases resulting from the omicron variant are on the rise”, the New York Times reported.

The high court, however, allowed a more limited mandate requiring health care workers at facilities receiving federal money to be vaccinated, the Times report added.

Quoting the Times report on the majority opinion of the Supreme Court on the decision:

The unsigned majority opinion in the employer case said a statute on workplace hazards did not justify a mandate that would have required more than 80 million workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to wear masks and be tested weekly. It also stressed the novelty and sweep of the mandate issued by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, saying Congress had not authorized the agency to act and describing its response as “a blunt instrument.”

The mandate “draws no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to Covid-19,” the majority opinion said, adding that it was “a significant encroachment into the lives — and health — of a vast number of employees.”

But the opinion said more tailored regulations may be lawful given that “most lifeguards and linemen face the same regulations as do medics and meatpackers.”

The dissenting opinion as penned by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan “expressed incredulity at the court’s willingness to frustrate “the federal government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID-19 poses to our nation’s workers.”

Regulating safety in the workplace, the three dissenting justices wrote, is precisely what OSHA is commanded to do.

They agreed that the key issue in the case was that of institutional competence to address the health care crisis.

“Underlying everything else in this dispute,” they wrote, “is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from Covid-19? An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the president authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?”

The wiser course, they wrote, would have been to defer to OSHA.

“In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed,” the dissenters wrote of the majority’s actions in the case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, No. 21A244. “As disease and death continue to mount, this court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible.”

OSHA issued the mandate in November, making exceptions for workers with religious objections and those who do not come into close contact with other people at their jobs. The administration estimated that it would cause 22 million people to get vaccinated and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations.

The ruling means that companies across the country must now decide between protecting employees, potentially losing staff members resistant to complying and running afoul of patchwork regulations.

To be continued…

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at [email protected], or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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