‘Do I have to get a COVID-19 vaccine?’: The latest guidelines on the High Plains

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – With multiple lawsuits in circulation and a decision pending from the Supreme Court regarding who, when, and where a person may be required to have a COVID-19 vaccination, MyHighPlains.com has compiled an up-to-date breakdown of who in the High Plains is under a requirement and who is not.

This information was current as of 7:45 a.m. CST on Jan. 13, 2022 – MyHighPlains.com will update this story as it develops.

Big businesses

A November announcement from OSHA required businesses with 100 or more employees to order their staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or otherwise be tested for the virus every week. However, while this requirement was paused by court order while lawsuits and the Supreme Court decision continue to develop, some individual businesses had already made similar mandates a company policy.

As of the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2022, the Supreme Court said that it would stop the federal requirement for large businesses.

Tyson Foods, a major employer across the High Plains, requires its US team members to be fully vaccinated. According to the company website, employees must have completed a COVID-19 vaccination course by the following dates:

  • All Tyson leadership – Sept. 24, 2021
    • All in-office team members – Oct. 1, 2021
    • All other team members – Nov. 1, 2021
    • All new hires – their individual starting dates
    • Team members that are members of a union – subject to the results of union bargaining

While the High Plains Tyson employees are unionized, Teamsters Local 577 supported the company’s vaccination requirement.

Federal contractors

Aside from Tyson, other major employers across the High Plains are Pantex and Bell Textron Inc. – both companies that are qualified as federal contractors.

Bell Textron Inc. established a Jan. 4, 2022 vaccination deadline for its employees, but that was paused in December in the wake of a court order. Employees for that company, according to the latest available information, were not under a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Pantex and Y-12 employees had a contractual requirement to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a valid exemption, but that was also paused in December. This decision was according to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, according to Pantex. Employees for Pantex and Y-12, according to the latest available information, were not under a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Healthcare workers

In November, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate was issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services health care workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities. However, that requirement was paused by a Texas court in December 2021.

However, as of the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2022, the Supreme Court said it would allow a vaccine mandate to be enforced for nearly all healthcare workers in the country.

However, whether or not a federal requirement is in place, all healthcare leaders on the High Plains have continued to stress the importance of every eligible person being vaccinated against COVID-19 and continue to practice masking and social distancing strategies. This call has been amplified by the latest COVID-19 surge, as hospitals on the High Plains have continued to struggle with critical shortages of staff and resources to help all patients.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers was put under review by the Supreme Court, with no opinion published as of Jan. 13, 2022.

National Guard members

According to federal law, members of the Texas Army National Guard are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

However, Texas Governor Greg Abbott began a lawsuit against the mandate in December 2021. In a letter to the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Abbott said that the state of Texas, “will not enforce this latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate against its guardsmen.”

“I have issued a straightforward order to every member of the Texas National Guard within my chain of command: Do not punish any guardsman for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” Abbott wrote in a letter to Major General Tracy Norris, the Texas National Guard’s top military leader. “And as long as I am your commander-in-chief, I will not tolerate efforts to compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine.”

However, the governor’s phrasing in regards to the Texas Military Department branches has left some confusion regarding which groups of service members were addressed in his statements.

According to the Texas Military Department, Texas military forces are split into three branches – the Texas State Guard, the Texas Army National Guard, and the Texas Air National Guard.

  • The Texas State Guard (TXSG) functions as an organized state militia and focuses on assisting state and local authorities in times of emergencies. The State Guard operates under the command of the Adjutant General of Texas and the Governor as Commander-in-Chief.
  • The Texas Army National Guard described itself as having a “dual mission,” which means members answer to both state and federal governments. Texas Army National Guard members are subject to deployment by either the state governor or the US President.
  • The Texas Air National Guard serves alongside active duty Air Force members during national crises, and assists state and local communities in what it described as “a wide range of capacities.” Texas Air National Guard members are subject to deployment by either the state governor or the US President, similar to the Texas Army National Guard.

The Texas State Guard, according to officially published descriptions from the Texas Military Department, appeared to be the most likely branch to which the governor was referring.

While the situation regarding the governor’s authority to block a federal vaccine mandate has continued to develop, Guard members are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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