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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Genesee and Wyoming counties ask for modified vaccine mandate

By MALLORY DIEFENBACH mdiefenbach@batavianews.com

The Genesee County Legislature urged Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Mental Health Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan to modify the COVID-19 mandate for all healthcare workers on Wednesday.

The Legislature passed a resolution Wednesday afternoon expressing concern that the mandate which requires healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27 will lead to significant numbers of resignations among staff and force hospitals and nursing homes to shutter beds and reduce capacity.The resolution asked for a “twice a week, or more frequent testing alternative” to protect patient safety.

“Our community cannot risk losing critical healthcare workers and acute and long-term care capacity,” the resolution said. “We don’t take this lightly,” said Genesee County Legislature Chairwoman Shelly Stein. “We ask for people to receive their vaccinations. At the same time the staffing shortages that will be plaguing this town are enough (that) we have to have our voice be heard,” Stein said. Wyoming County passed a similar resolution Tuesday.

Although well-intentioned, the vaccine mandate proposed by Hochul and Commissioner Howard Zucker runs the risk of effecting the mass resignation of unvaccinated healthcare workers throughout the state, Wyoming County’s resolution reads. That’s a concern in Wyoming County, which has one of two county-run hospitals in the state. The county recommends all eligible people get vaccinated against COVID-19 but is asking Hochul and Zucker to modify their vaccine mandate to allow for a testing option for those workers who do not wish to receive the vaccine.

A federal court Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against Hochul’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. The lawsuit, which was filed by 17 health care workers including doctors and nurses, alleges that the mandate nullifies federal anti-discrimination laws for “sincere religious exemptions” granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The restraining order suspends the vaccine mandate for health care workers to the extent that employers deny religious exemptions, while barring the state Department of Health from interfering with religious exemptions already granted and taking disciplinary action against workers who have an exemption, according to the court ruling. Outside the Old Courthouse in Genesee County, there were protestors earlier Wednesday against the vaccine mandate.

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