Wyoming businesses are still wrestling with uncertainty and confusion about how and if to comply with federal vaccine mandates more than three months after those regulations were announced — and time may be running out.

When President Joe Biden announced in September plans to require certain workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face regular testing and masking, the news prompted a months-long legal battle involving dozens of states and the federal courts.

Guidelines were issued, lawsuits filed, injunctions ordered and strongly worded statements released.

Gov. Mark Gordon vowed to battle the mandates in court, and the Wyoming Legislature even took the extraordinary step of convening a special session to respond to mandates — producing a single bill “prohibiting the enforcement of federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” in response.

Meanwhile, business owners were left scratching their heads about how to prepare amid the ever-fluctuating news, they say.

After months of back and forths, the fight may soon come to an end. On Jan. 7 the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments before determining whether or not to stay the mandate or reinstate an injunction.

While employees and employers across Wyoming have differing opinions on whether or not a vaccine mandate constitutes federal overreach, many agree that the legal whipsawing has been a source of confusion, frustration and uncertainty.

“We’re in limbo,” said Jim Fuller, the interim administrator at Green House Living for Sheridan, a nursing home.

Stuck in the middle

Until the lawsuits are finally resolved, Green House Living for Sheridan is “doing business as usual, just like we’ve done prior to the mandate,” Fuller said. They regularly test employees for COVID-19, but are not firing unvaccinated employees, which currently make up roughly 50% of their staff, according to Fuller. “But if the mandate were in place, we would have no other option but to let them go if they don’t need either the medical exemption or the religious exemption.”

Green House Living for Sheridan won’t use all 48 beds in the facility in case the mandate is upheld and the operation must let go of staff, Fuller said. They’re already short-staffed and Fuller worries that they’ll lose even more employees whom they won’t be able to replace.

“We’re not scared by the mandate, but it hasn’t helped us one bit,” he said “It’s a frustration.”

That feeling of frustration was echoed by other businesses in Wyoming.

“It feels like this very painful limbo, where we’re waiting and waiting to see,” Elisabeth Cassiday, executive director of the Sheridan YMCA, said. Her operation employs 140 people, from 14- or 15-year-old teenagers working their first jobs to retirees picking up a shift or two, she said, but only counts 20 full-time workers. Getting everyone on the same page has been a challenge, she said.

Cassiday is considering purchasing software to help the YMCA track vaccination status, as well as setting up testing stations for those who choose not to get vaccinated. The initiation cost of the software is $2,500, however, a big investment to make when Cassiday still isn’t even sure if the courts will ultimately require organizations like hers to comply with the mandate.

COVID-19 testing station at the University of Wyoming. (Jeff Victor/WyoFile)

University of Wyoming spokesman Chad Baldwin said the college is also taking a wait-and-see approach.

“There are no plans to mandate vaccines at this point,” Baldwin said. “We’re ready to move if we need to. But at this point, there’s not been a final resolution in the court.”

A resolution of sorts on the horizon

Roughly two months after Biden’s announcement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a set of rules outlining guidelines for employers designed to “to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by strongly encouraging vaccination.”

That same day Gov. Gordon announced that Wyoming, along with 11 other states, would file a lawsuit to prevent the OSHA standard.

“We have been preparing for this battle and, as promised, we are now joined in the fight to protect our civil liberties,” Gordon said in a related statement. “Rest assured I am committed to using every tool possible to oppose these unlawful federal policies.”

Gov. Mark Gordon in the Capitol March 1, 2021. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

On Dec. 18 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned an injunction, instated by the Fifth Circuit, on the mandate for businesses with over 100 employees. OSHA’s website states that the federal agency will exercise “enforcement discretion,” but won’t start issuing citations for noncompliance until Jan. 10, and specifically won’t issue citations for testing until February.

That leaves little wiggle room for businesses waiting for the Supreme Court’s early-January decision before taking action.

“If I was advising an employer I would say be ready to comply with that Jan. 10 mandate,” said Michael Duff, a professor at the University of Wyoming College of Law specializing in labor and employment law.

“No matter what you think about the government, no matter what you think about regulation, if a regulatory agency like OSHA can’t regulate during a pandemic, then when would it be able to regulate?” Duff wondered.

“Whatever happens here, somebody better get a clear set of rules about when this agency can regulate.”

Sofia Jeremias reports on healthcare, education and the economy in Wyoming. She received her master's degree from the Columbia Journalism School and previously reported on the West for Deseret News.

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  1. I spent 50+ years fully employed in healthcare, and was vaccinated for everything my employers required for patient and my safety. I would certainly not place a loved one in the care of a facility whose staff were not requiring vaccination for Covid. That’s leaving a vulnerable patient population at risk from staff who could expose or transmit Covid to them or other staff.

  2. “What is a nursing home’s contractual responsibility for the health of its residents?” is a question that should be addressed here. If 50% of staff have chosen to remain unvaccinated, mandate or not, do the rights of the staff members override those of the patients? I’ve two friends (in different states) with this dilemma who cannot relocate their parents. I would be curious to know if there is liability here for decision makers.

  3. The two sides of this coin will never come to terms. Period.
    As with other issues that divide us, this is both intellectual and emotional.
    I know my position is firm, and I thank God I don’t have to answer to a boss.
    As the saying goes, they are like diapers.
    The leftist media (Don’t lie, you know they are.) is now frothing at the bit over Alex Jones calling out Trump for his position on the jab. And good for him. About time.
    Trump was always a better of two evils, until he crossed that line, in my opinion.
    Now that the dam is broken, other commentators are piling on.
    In a Republic with honest and competent institutions the debate over policy regarding health and science would be welcomed and encouraged. It is not.
    Obama was fond of saying, “The science is settled.” when it came to climate hysteria. Not settled. Ever. Scientific Method tells us the science is never settled. At that point it becomes religion. That is what we are dealing with today. Science has been perverted by politicians and hacks into a weird religious cult. The Earth revolves around the Sun. The sun and volcanism determine climate. Get over it.
    The government responses to this series of outbreaks will be debated by historians and scientists for decades if not centuries. My feeling is that 5 years from now there will be a radically different consensus based on the aftereffects of today’s decisions and the ensuing backlash. I could be wrong, but so far I’ve seen nothing to sway my point of view. The most important thing is that we have the freedom of choice going forward. Nothing is more important than the right to say NO. Those who believe otherwise might as well be cutting out hearts at the top of a pyramid and throwing bodies down the steps.

    1. Bob, there are plenty of things that would sway your point of view, you simply choose to ignore them.

      1. First I investigate. Then I consider the right response to information. You are correct. I ignore false information that is designed to fool me. I am aware of it. I often laugh at it. But in the end it is just bad fiction.

    2. Poor Bob. You have some serious deep issues in life. I realize you hate the Democratic party but do you really need to spew it on every article on Wyofile??

      1. No. I do not limit my criticism to Democrats. There are plenty of crooks in both parties. It is primarily the Dems who are steamrolling us into the dark ages. Those incapable of introspection find my comments to be something of a bother. I get that. Consider them a foil to the day in day out pablum of propaganda you normally read. Perhaps perspective will come. Perhaps not. Doubtful.
        I have limited my comments to areas where a voice is needed. Reason does not always please the soul. It often has to jar us from complacency. That is my idiom.

        1. Well said Mr. Baker. At least the censors here are seemingly allowing debate again. This may be the only place where some of these folks are exposed to a differing opinion.

  4. I’ll take a true vaccine when it comes around, one that isn’t experimental and you can sue if you get sick. Problem is animal reservoir viruses like this one cannot be separated to make a true vaccine, but Roger ☝knows science.🤣

  5. The Nuremberg code, and other laws pertaining to bodily autonomy forbid this kind of Government overreach! The so-called emergency that would allow such an action, has a 98+% recovery rate that would be even higher if Drs were allowed to treat this properly rather than an experimental vaccine only and nothing else treatment protocol. The best interest of the public has not been served. I will NOT give up my right to decide for myself !!!

  6. Simple solution. People go get vaccinated. It’s free. But for some, pretending to know more than scientists, listening to quacks and morons is more fulfilling.

    1. I listen to REAL Doctors and Scientists. I’d tell you more but the censors are being picky again. The facts have been banned. The truth is Verboten. Welcome to 1930s Germany. No . Wait. Worse. Way worse.