ALBEMARLE — With a 6-1 vote, the Stanly County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Monday night that formally opposes a national COVID vaccine mandate on employers.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), at the direction of President Joe Biden, recently released an emergency temporary standard requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to mandate the COVID vaccine or require weekly COVID testing and masks by Jan. 4.
Chairman Tommy Jordan — appointed as the board’s new chair earlier in the meeting — said that employers have the right to make their own vaccine policies for their workers and that forcing a business to comply with this mandate is government overreach.
“I do not think we as a government need to be making that decision. I’m more for personal responsibility and personal freedoms, so I have no problem supporting that resolution,” Jordan said on the board’s Individual Freedom over Personal Vaccine Status resolution. “We’ve talked about it for quite a while now, and it managed to get on this week’s agenda. I’m glad that was one of the first things I got to do as chairman.”
The resolution states that neither OSHA nor the federal government plan to provide funding to employers to offset the cost of implementing the mandate — a predicament that County Manager Andy Lucas referred to as a “nightmare” for the county staff.
Commissioner Peter Ascuitto’s lone nay vote on the issue prevented a unanimous voting tally. In his explanation, he asserted that the board was prioritizing convenience over the safety of the county’s workers in a “partisan effort.”
“COVID is real and literally killing people in Stanly County,” Ascuitto said. “The county staff is against this [mandate] because more paperwork is more important than promoting good health and preventing death.”
With his approval of Biden’s mandate, Ascuitto — a registered Republican — holds a belief contrary to the majority of his party members, according to a Morning Consult-Politico poll conducted Nov. 5-7 and released on Nov. 10. The poll found that 79% of Democrats but only 30% of Republicans either strongly or somewhat support requiring large firms to mandate vaccinations.
In a decision that could ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the implementation of the mandate is currently on hold and has been stayed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Kentucky, and recently the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Kentucky via a multi-jurisdictional lottery that was chosen to decide the mandate’s legality.
Commissioner Lane Furr said that the mandate limits individual choice: “I just want to go on record to say that I have never ever tried to take rights away from the people. I think that’s their choice. I took my shot, but if they don’t want them, fine. If they don’t want to wear a mask, fine. I’m not taking that away from them.”
Commissioners Bill Lawhon, Scott Efird, Mike Barbee and Zach Almond joined Jordan and Furr in their votes against the mandate. Almond was appointed to the board’s new vice chairman position during the meeting, replacing the role that Jordan previously held; Jordan’s new chairman position was held by Lawhon prior to the dual change.
The Stanly commissioners’ upcoming 2022 schedule will commence with the first two meetings of the new year scheduled for Jan. 3 and Jan. 17.