On July 27, the CDC added the recommendation that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission risk in order to maximize protection from the delta variant of COVID-19. In addition, the CDC added a recommendation for fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to be tested 3-5 days after the exposure, to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. In addition, the CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools regardless of vaccination status.
Leon County’s Vaccination Mandate
On July 28, Leon County Administrator Vincent Long issued an Interoffice Memo acknowledging the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus and the delta variant and stating that vaccination against the virus is now a condition of employment for new and existing employees of the Leon County government. The memo acknowledges that as an employer, Leon County is required to provide a safe work environment for employees, and that unvaccinated employees post a significant risk to spread the virus. All employees will have until October 1, 2021, to get vaccinated and provide proof to Leon County Human Resources. Employees who fail to get vaccinated, except those that have been granted an accommodation, will be fired. In addition, all new employees must be fully vaccinated before beginning employment. Accommodations will be available to employees who cannot get vaccinated due to do an ADA-covered disability, a doctor certified diagnosed medical condition which prevents vaccination, or a “sincerely held religious belief.” If employees are granted an accommodation, they will be required to wear a mask at all times while at work. Furthermore, the county may opt to require that unvaccinated employees submit a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis. Leon county was the first county in the country to require the vaccination of all employees. Although the county requires its employees to wear masks in county buildings, there is ongoing debate on whether children should be required to wear masks in schools. Residents are currently debating whether or not the mask mandate made in the beginning of summer stating that masks will be optional for students in Leon County schools for the 2021-2022 school year should be revised to make masks mandatory.
The vaccine mandate comes after Leon County was determined to have a high level of community transmission. A county is considered to have a high transmission if “it has 100 or more weekly cases per 100,000 residents or a 10% or greater test positivity rate in the last seven days.” The CDC recommends that communities with high transmission rates implement universal masking indoors and consider additional measures to limit contact between people. In the last week, COVID-19 cases in the nation increased 53.6% from the week before, amounting to 559,334 total new cases reported. With 6.45% of the country’s population, Florida accounted for 19.8% of the country’s cases in the last week. Specifically, Leon County reported 1,517 cases in the last week compared to 843 cases that were reported the week earlier.
Is this Legally Permitted?
Leon County Attorney Chasity O’Steen reviewed the issued mandate, in accordance with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidance, and found that the county is legally permitted to require vaccinations. The mandate goes entirely against the views of Governor DeSantis who, despite the recent virus resurgence, still believes “it’s very important that we say, unequivocally: ‘no’ to lockdowns, ‘no’ to school closures, ‘no’ to restrictions – and ‘no’ to mandates.” Don Pumphrey, in his interview with NewsChannel ABC 27 WTXL Tallahassee, stated that DeSantis could get involved, however, it is unlikely he would override a mandate on safety concerns for public health. In addition, Pumphrey stated that “[h]e has a lot of power. He has the power of the entire executive branch of government but again he is there to enforce the law, he’s not there to make the law.” Currently, the press secretary for Governor Ron DeSantis says his legal team is reviewing the Leon County mandate.
Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney. Don has achieved over 100 not guilty verdicts at trial and over 2,000 dismissals.