COVID-19 Updates

November 10, 2021

Vaccine Mandate Update

 

A federal appeals court on Saturday temporarily halted the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers.

 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the requirement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that those workers be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face mask requirements and weekly tests.

 

At least 27 states, along with private employers and other organizations, have filed suit against the mandate.

 

 

November 5, 2021

Yesterday the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that establishes binding requirements for employers with more than 100 employees to require those workers to become fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or submit to routine testing and mask wearing in the workplace.

 

While some states have filed complaint lawsuits against the Federal government, OSHA has clearly stated the ETS preempts any inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing. Texas does not operate a state workplace safety and health plan and is defined as a federal OSHA state.

 

The ETS, which remains in the comment period, is effective as of today and will remain in place for six months. OSHA may extend and/or modify the ETS. If an employer expects to have 100 workers, including part-time, seasonal and certain temporary employees, at anytime during these six months, the ETS will apply.

 

With the initial provisions of the ETS going into effect December 5, covered employers will need to act quickly.

 

The US Chamber of Commerce has released a very informative video and printed summary that explains the ETS, including who is covered by the new rules, recordkeeping and compliance matters, implementation timelines and penalties for non-compliance.

 

We have also included a series of links to resources mentioned in the video and to the US Chamber's ETS Handbook.

 

CLICK HERE TO WATCH US CHAMBER VIDEO (APPROX. ONE HOUR)

 

US CHAMBER ETS HANDBOOK AND FAQ

 

Below are links to the four employee notification requirements referenced in the video, along with a link to the full ETS and guidance from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on religious and medical exemptions.

OSHA EMERGENCY TEMPORARY STANDARD FACT SHEET

 

CDC KEY THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT COVID-19 VACCINES

 

OSHA WORKER'S RIGHTS UNDER THE COVID-19 ETS

 

OSHA FACT SHEET ON PENALTIES FOR FALSE STATEMENTS & RECORDS

 

READ OSHA'S FULL EMERGENCY TEMPORARY STANDARD

 

EEOC GUIDANCE ON RELIGIOUS & MEDICAL EXEMPTIONS

November 4, 2021

Yesterday, the Biden Administration announced details for two major COVID-19 vaccination policies that affect companies with more than 100 employees and healthcare providers that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. Together, it is estimated the new rules will encompass two-thirds of the American workforce.

 

EMPLOYERS WITH MORE THAN 100 WORKERS

 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that establishes binding requirements for employers with more than 100 employees to:

  • Get Their Employees Vaccinated by January 4th and Require Unvaccinated Employees to Produce a Negative Test on at Least a Weekly Basis: All covered employers must ensure that their employees have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4th. After that, all covered employers must ensure that any employees who have not received the necessary shots begin producing a verified negative test to their employer on at least a weekly basis, and they must remove from the workplace any employee who receives a positive COVID-19 test or is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed health care provider. The ETS lays out the wide variety of tests that comply with the standard. The ETS does not require employers to provide or pay for tests. Employers may be required to pay for testing because of other laws or collective bargaining agreements.

  • Pay Employees for the Time it Takes to Get Vaccinated: All covered employers are required to provide paid-time for their employees to get vaccinated and, if needed, sick leave to recover from side effects experienced that keep them from working.

  • Ensure All Unvaccinated Employees are Masked: All covered employers must ensure that unvaccinated employees wear a face mask while in the workplace.

  • Other Requirements and Compliance Date: Employers are subject to requirements for reporting and recordkeeping that are spelled out in the detailed OSHA materials. While the testing requirement for unvaccinated workers will begin after January 4th, employers must be in compliance with all other requirements – such as providing paid-time for employees to get vaccinated and masking for unvaccinated workers – on December 5th.

 

READ OSHA'S FULL EMERGENCY TEMPORARY STANDARD

 

HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS

 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) at the Department of Health and Human Services is requiring workers at health care facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid to have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4th. The rule applies to employees regardless of whether their positions are clinical or non-clinical and includes employees, students, trainees, and volunteers who work at a covered facility that receives federal funding from Medicare or Medicaid. It also includes individuals who provide treatment or other services for the facility under contract or other arrangements. 

 

READ CMS INTERIM FINAL RULE

October 13, 2021

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is reporting 80 active cases (compared to 60 last Wednesday) of COVID-19 for Gillespie County, along with 1,213 probable cases. (This data is taken from today's DSHS website number. Reporting delays are possible.)

 

COVID fatalities in Gillespie County increased by three from last week for a total of 77. (compared to 60 on September 1).

 

Yesterday, Fredericksburg Independent School District reported 4 COVID cases (staff and students), down from 4 last Tuesday. The case breakdown is 1 at FHS, 1 at FMS, 1 at FES, 1 at FPS and 0 at SES. CLICK HERE to view FISD's COVID Response Plan.

 

As of today, there are 2 COVID-related patients hospitalized at Hill Country Memorial. HCM also reported a rolling 7-day average COVID test positivity rate of 14.5%.   

 

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available locally at H-E-B, Value Med, Walgreens and Walmart. Local physician offices also have available vaccines.

September 22, 2021

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is reporting 88 active cases (compared to 110 last Wednesday) of COVID-19 for Gillespie County, along with 1,134 probable cases. (This data is taken from today's DSHS website number. Reporting delays are possible.)

 

COVID fatalities in Gillespie County increased by two from last week for a total of 68 (compared to 60 on September 1).

 

Yesterday, Fredericksburg Independent School District reported 12 COVID cases (staff and students), compared to 34 last Tuesday. The case breakdown is 3 at FHS, 4 at FMS, 2 at FES, 0 at FPS and 3 at SES. CLICK HERE to view FISD's COVID Response Plan.

 

As of today, there are 5 COVID-related patients hospitalized at Hill Country Memorial.

 

Statewide hospitalization dropped slightly to 87.8%, with the number of rooms utilized by COVID patients at 18.1%. DSHS also reports hospital availability by region. Trauma Service Area P, which comprises nearly 3 million Texans including Gillespie County residents, is reporting 85 available adult ICU rooms and 15 pediatric ICU rooms.

 

Pfizer vaccine booster shots are now available for persons over the age of 65 or with higher-risk health conditions.

 

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available locally at H-E-B, Value Med, Walgreens and Walmart. Local physician offices also have available vaccines.

Latest Guidance on Employer COVID Requirements

 

EMPLOYER VACCINE MANDATES

The Biden Administration recently announced its six-prong Path Out of the Pandemic, COVID-19 Action Plan, which includes several key measures for companies who employ more than 100 workers.

 

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement this requirement, which the Chamber will link when available.

 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is taking action to require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies. This action builds on the vaccination requirement for nursing facilities recently announced by CMS, and will apply to nursing home staff as well as staff in hospitals and other CMS-regulated settings, including clinical staff, individuals providing services under arrangements, volunteers, and staff who are not involved in direct patient, resident, or client care.

 

The President also signed an Executive Order requiring all federal executive branch workers to be vaccinated and directing that this standard be extended to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government.

 

ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS

Leading employment attorneys believe OSHA's rule will almost certainly affirm that employers must accommodate employees who refuse to be vaccinated based on a medical exemption or sincerely held religious belief.

 

These experts advise that if a medical exemption is requested, an employer is entitled to require a reasonable amount of verification to confirm that the employee does have a bona fide medical reason not to be vaccinated. At the same time, employers must maintain the confidentiality of any medical information they obtain when discussing an exemption.

 

Religious objections are protected even when they are not supported by a formal religious group, and employers should seek further verification only in rare circumstances if there is a specific reason to doubt that the employee's objection is religion-based. Political and philosophical objections are not protected by federal anti-discrimination law.

READ PATH OUT OF THE PANDEMIC ACTION PLAN

 

COVID-RELATED LEAVE

The broader COVID-related paid leave requirements, provided for by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, expired on December 31, 2020. Employees of companies covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act may be entitled to COVID-related leave under certain circumstances.

 

President Biden's recently announced COVID action plan has directed OSHA to is develop a rule that will require employers with more than 100 employees to provide paid time off for the time it takes for workers to get vaccinated or to recover if they are under the weather post-vaccination. This requirement will be implemented through the ETS. This rule has not been published, but will be linked when available.

READ DEPARTMENT OF LABOR'S LATEST FMLA Q&A

EMPLOYER TAX CREDITS

Refundable tax credits to reimburse small and mid-size employers for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19, including leave taken by employees to receive or recover from COVID-19 vaccinations (created by the American Rescue Act) end on September 30, 2021.

READ IRS FACT SHEET ON ARP TAX CREDIT ELIGILITY AND CLAIMING CREDITS

 

 

August 25, 2021

COVID In The Workplace Resource Guide

 

In response to many calls from our members, related to managing COVID in the workplace, the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce has assembled the following resource material. The information presented is not intended as medical or legal advice, but rather a source-cited guide for our members.

What should I do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace?

The United States Department of Labor, Occupational Health & Safety Administration issued updated guidance on August 13, 2021 on protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, including environmental controls, training and protocols for workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms.

CLICK HERE TO READ FULL UPDATED OSHA GUIDANCE 

UPDATED AUGUST 13, 2021

When is it safe for an employee to return to work following a COVID-positive test?

Accumulating evidence, reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, supports ending isolation and precautions for persons with COVID-19 using a symptom-based strategy. Specifically, researchers have reported that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after their symptoms began, and those with more severe illness or those who are severely immunocompromised remain infectious no longer than 20 days after their symptoms began. Therefore, CDC has updated the recommendations for discontinuing home isolation as follows:

Persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 10 days* have passed since symptom onset and

  • At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and

  • Other symptoms have improved.

*A limited number of persons with severe illness may produce replication-competent virus beyond 10 days, that may warrant extending duration of isolation for up to 20 days after symptom onset. Consider consultation with infection control experts.

 

How can I use antigen testing to prevent the spread of COVID in the workplace and better manage my labor force needs?

Antigen tests are an effective tool to help employers prevent the spread COVID-19 in the workplace. Antigen tests, when used for screening employees in non-healthcare workplaces, can detect current infection before an employee enters the workplace or returns to work. Antigen tests are

  • Easy to give

  • Quick to return results

  • Low in cost

Antigen tests are especially useful for screening because they can identify staff

  • With COVID-19 who do not have signs or symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-19

  • Who are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, such hospitality workers, business travelers and those who work in crowded indoor spaces

 

The Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce offers all members and their employees free, rapid-response COVID antigen testing, most weekdays from 9 -10 a.m. by appointment.

 

The Fredericksburg Fire EMS has partnered with the Good Samaritan Center and the Hill Country Community Needs Council to distribute self-administered COVID-19 tests. Contact the Needs Council at 830-997-9756 for details.

CLICK HERE TO READ FULL CDC GUIDANCE & RESOURCE LINKS FOR WORKPLACES & BUSINESSES

UPDATED AUGUST 24, 2021

 

Can I make vaccination a condition of employment? Can I require symptom screening or testing of employees and what if they refuse? What violates medical confidentiality or the ADA? What can I require of a COVID-positive employee to return to work?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission maintains a technical assistance question and answer page on their website. Each question is annotated with the date of the most recent update.

CLICK HERE TO READ FULL EEOC TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS 

UPDATED MAY 28, 2021

Is my company eligible to receive tax credits on wages paid to workers for COVID sick leave or time needed to get a vaccine?

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) allows small and midsize employers, and certain governmental employers, to claim refundable tax credits that reimburse them for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19, including leave taken by employees to receive or recover from COVID-19 vaccinations. The ARP tax credits are available to eligible employers that pay sick and family leave for leave from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.

 

Paid leave mandates created under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired on December 31, 2020.

CLICK HERE TO READ IRS ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS & PROCESS TO CLAIM CREDITS

UPDATED JULY 28, 2021

August 13, 2021
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August 12, 2021

Public COVID-19 Testing Available

Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Gillespie County, the demand for COVID testing in the community has also risen. Fredericksburg Fire EMS has partnered with the Good Samaritan Center and the Hill Country Community Needs Council to distribute self-administered COVID-19 tests. The Good Samaritan Center has purchased the first 500 tests and delivered those to the Needs Council for distribution into the community.

In order to receive a free home test kit:

  1. Go to the Needs Council, 1904 N. Llano, Fredericksburg Texas 78624. Hours are Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. - noon & 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

  2. Upon arrival, stay in your car and call (830)997-9756. You will be asked for your last name and number of people in your household.

  3. Staff will label your bag of test kits with your last name and place it on the outside table for you to collect.

  4. Please follow social distancing guidelines as others seeking tests will likely be symptomatic as well.

 

Testing kits are also available for purchase at Walgreens, H-E-B, and Wal-Mart.

If someone in your household tests positive, they should self-isolate and seek medical care from your healthcare provider as additional testing may be necessary. It is recommended they seek out a PCR test for verification of the positive test. PCR test locations in our area can be found at https://sanantonio.curativeinc.com. Follow up with your primary physician or seek medical care if necessary.

For those wishing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, vaccination sites in Fredericksburg include Walgreens, H-E-B, Wal-Mart, and ValuMed Pharmacy. Local healthcare providers may also offer the vaccine.

For any questions, please contact the Needs Council at 830.997.9756 or Catherine Kuhlmann, Fredericksburg Fire EMS Infectious Disease Control Officer, at 830.992.9218.

August 2, 2021

Due to a significant increase in COVID Testing requests by our members, the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce has resumed online scheduling of test appointments.

 

Beginning Wednesday, August 4, Chamber members and their employees may schedule a FREE rapid-response COVID test between 9-10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, using the link below. If demand continues to increase, additional testing times will be added.

 

All testing appointments scheduled by phone prior to August 4 will be conducted as planned - no need to make an online reservation.

 

The Chamber uses Abbott Laboratory's BinexNow Ag Card test kit, which is administered with a minimally-invasive nasal swap. Results will be shared at the time of testing and confirmed via email and text, typically within two hours of testing.

 

Masks are required for all testing appointments. Please bring your drivers license.

CLICK HERE to schedule a Rapid COVID test

 

 

 

July 30, 2021

Pop-Up Vaccination site at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church Saturday, July 31

Saturday, July 31, the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church is partnering with Hill Country Memorial Hospital to host a pop-up vaccination site from 9am - 1pm in the church gymnasium at 1800 North Llano Street. It will be the one-time Johnson & Johnson vaccination and all vaccines are free. Wear a mask and bring a Valid ID. No appointment or reservation is necessary. 

Licensed medical staff through Hill Country Memorial Hospital will be on-site and administering all vaccines. If you'd like to volunteer in some other way, you may contact the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church Director of Outreach, Chandler Sager at chandler@fredumc.org.

July 28. 2021

COVID-19 Update - Delta Variant

 

The number of active cases of COVID-19 in Gillespie County has doubled in the last week, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

 

With Delta variant spreading, the number of hospitalized Texans has increased to levels not seen since March and Hill Country Memorial is no exception. Dr. James Partin, HCM Chief Medical officer, has indicated a patient load that has exceeded the staffed-bed capacity of the hospital, necessitating transfer of patients that could otherwise be cared for locally. He cited a chronic national shortage of nursing staff, alongside the absence of state-contracted nurses that helped hospitals through the COVID surge in the first quarter of the year and urged state officials to consider additional support.

 

The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), designated by DSHS to develop, implement and maintain the regional trauma and emergency healthcare system for the 22 counties in Trauma Service Area - P advised hospitals to reach out to local officials and prepare for additional cases and hospitalizations as the COVID Delta variant spreads. "By the end of August, we have been told to expect a 30% increase in hospitalizations," said Partin.

 

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for fully-vaccinated individuals to include recommendations to wear a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission. CLICK HERE for a county-by-county map of transmission rates and other data.

 

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available locally at H-E-B, Value Med, Walgreens and Walmart. Local physician offices also have available vaccines.