Covid Vaccination Clinic

Pepper Williams, left, prepares for his vaccination during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Jan. 13 at the 12th Avenue Recreation Center.

The Biden administration plans has asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to require COVID-19 vaccinations or a negative test for employers of more than 100 and vaccinations for healthcare facilities that receive medicare or medicaid. This was incorrectly stated that it was an executive order.

As President Joe Biden’s administration begins to work out the specifics of its plan to require vaccinations or proof of negative COVID test, the federal government is working out how, if at all, the plan will affect Oklahoma’s tribal nations, some of the state’s biggest employers.

The administration asks the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to require employers with more than 100 employees to require proof of COVID-19 vaccine or negative test in order to be in compliance. The specifics of how the plan will be enforced have not yet been released.

Biden’s corresponding executive order, signed Sept. 9, requires all federal employees and federal contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19 but exempted tribes that contract with the federal government from that requirement.

“This order shall not apply to: contracts, contract-like instruments, or agreements with Indian Tribes under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act,” the executive order reads.

In light of this exemption, whether or not the tribes would fall under the new plan of employers with 100 or more employees having to require COVID-19 vaccinations or proof of a negative test was brought into question. The Transcript asked The White House multiple questions about the specifics of the plan and how it will apply to tribal nations, local governments, universities and more, but The White House Monday could not fully respond because the details were still in process.

A White House official said “some tribal offices and programs would be exempt” from the new plan, but in regards to whether tribal-owned entities and businesses will fall under the administration’s plan is still being worked out by OSHA. It was unclear Monday which offices would be exempt and why.

“There are certainly differences with tribal governments and their sovereignty and we always are going to respect that and keep that front and center,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, a senior policy advisor for the White House COVID-19 response team. “But with regard to this employer requirement, for folks who have more than 100 employees the OSHA regulations are the rule that’s going to delineate all those details. But again, we’ve always really put a premium on focusing on the sovereignty of tribal governments. That’s a unique relationship and one we’re going to honor.”

Even though it will not apply to them, the tribes are already far ahead of the state in terms of vaccination rates and COVID mitigation. The Cherokee Nation on Friday had nearly 75% of its roughly 4,300 employees vaccinated after a May executive order offered employees $300 to get the vaccine, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement.

Cherokee Nation businesses also take mandatory COVID tests twice a week, Hoskin said in his statement.

“We have been reviewing options for additional testing and vaccine measures for our Cherokee Nation government workforce, including COVID testing requirements,” Hoskin’s statement reads. “We will make these decisions consistent with our status as a sovereign government and our proven commitment to public health and safety.”

As of Monday, the Chickasaw Nation had more than 78% of its employees and more than 88% of their healthcare workers vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement to The Transcript.

“It is essential to mitigate the effects and spread of the virus,” he said in the statement. “We have already established science-based protocols for employees.... We consistently implement effective workplace vaccination and testing guidelines which provide a safer environment for our employees, citizens and guests.”

When asked about how these new requirements will affect county and city government employees in Oklahoma, Webb said that is up to the discretion of OSHA and will be made more clear once they start rolling out the rules for this order.

“A lot of those rules are going to be promulgated,” he said. “OSHA is going to be developing that rule, and those rules are going to be rolled out in the next few weeks. So we’ll get more detail as they pull that together.”

The administration’s plan was highly criticized by Oklahoma’s elected officials from Gov. Kevin Stitt to Attorney General John O’Connor. The attorney general threatened litigation against the administration if it implements the plan.

The administration said the state’s response doesn’t deter them from doing what they believe needs to be done in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“No matter who you are, no matter if you’re a red state, blue state, north, south, east or west, you want this pandemic to end,” Webb said. “I think that for folks who stand in the way of thoughtful proposals to end it, I would just encourage them to submit their alternative proposal. In the meantime show us what you’re thinking and what’s going to work in your community.”

Reese Gorman covers politics and COVID-19 for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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Politics Reporter

Reese Gorman covers politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Norman Transcript. He started as an intern in May of 2020 and transitioned into his current position as a staff writer in August of 2020.