By Tom Hals
(Reuters) – The U.S. government asked a federal appeals court to immediately lift a court-ordered stay on a sweeping workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule to avoid “enormous” harm to public health, or alternatively to allow a masking-and-testing requirement, according to a court filing.
Delaying the rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that requires employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly would lead to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, the government said in a Tuesday filing with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has issued several rules aimed at encouraging vaccination, although OSHA’s Nov. 5 standard is the most far-reaching.
The OSHA rule requires businesses with at least 100 employees, covering tens of millions of American workers, to comply by Jan. 4.
Although 82% of U.S. adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose, requiring shots against COVID-19 has become a divisive political issue over trade-offs between civil liberty and public health.
The rule was challenged by Republican-led states, businesses and trade groups and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans quickly blocked it, calling it “staggeringly overbroad” and a “one-size-fits-all sledgehammer.”
After the stay was imposed by the 5th Circuit, lawsuits from around the country were transferred to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
That has given the Biden Administration an opportunity to ask for the ruling by the 5th Circuit to be reviewed.
The government said in its filing that if the 5th Circuit’s ruling remained, it should at least be modified to allow the masking-and-testing requirement.
A modified stay would also shield employers from state and local laws banning vaccines and face coverings, the government said.
Florida is among the states that have banned businesses from requiring vaccination against COVID-19.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Bernadette Baum)