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COVID-19

Montgomery County prepares for vaccine, testing mandate

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CHRISTIANSBURG — Montgomery County officials, like other governments in the region, are putting together a policy on how they will meet the nationwide order that calls on large employers to either mandate vaccinations or frequent testing for COVID-19.

County staff presented the board of supervisors with the two options Monday night.

County Attorney Marty McMahon told supervisors that staff recommended giving workers a choice, an option the elected body voiced favor for later in the discussion over the COVID-19 measure.

Board Chairman Steve Fijalkowski spoke out against outright requiring employees to get vaccinated.

“I’m definitely against any kind of mandated vaccination. It’s outrageous,” he said.

While there would be a masking requirement for unvaccinated workers, Montgomery County employees — vaccinated or not — are required to mask in the workplace because of the transmission level in the community. Even if an employee decided to get vaccinated in response to the mandate, they would still be required to mask if the local transmission rate isn’t below certain levels, McMahon said.

Despite the recent discussion over the mandate from President Joe Biden’s administration, whether Montgomery County employees will be required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing is still not set in stone.

The county’s employment — including the schools and the Christiansburg and Blacksburg town governments — is more than 4,000.

McMahon told supervisors that employers initially had to have a policy in place by Dec. 6 and start enacting those measures on Jan. 4. However, he said requirements have been suspended because of the ongoing challenge of the Biden administration mandate in federal court.

Whether county employees will ever be required to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing will depend on the outcome of the litigation, McMahon said.

“In the interim, we believe we just can’t wait until the courts decide,” he said. “We need to start preparing.”

The Biden administration has also asked the Cincinnati-based Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit — which has been assigned to deal with the lawsuits challenging the mandate — to lift a recent court order that blocked the vaccination and testing rule, according to recent news reports.

Another point Montgomery County supervisors and staff discussed was the potential penalties that could come from violations of the mandate, should the rule hold up in court.

The county would face a fine of $136,000 per violation if it refuses to comply with the mandate, McMahon said. However, whether that would be a one-time penalty or recurring fine based on days or weeks is unclear at the moment, he said.

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