State officials will have to create a plan to meet the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard because there is an Indiana State Plan filed with OSHA, officials said, which has resulted in local sheriff’s departments interpreting the mandate differently.

The standard states that employers with 100 or more employees have to either have their employees get vaccinated or tested by Jan. 4, though the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay Saturday.

The mandate does not apply to state and local government employers in states without state plans, because those entities are exempt from OSHA coverage, according to the OSHA website. But, in states with OSHA-approved programs — or state plans — state and local government employers with 100 or more employees will be covered by state occupational safety and health requirements.

Those with state plans, like Indiana, “must adopt requirements for state and local employers that are at least as effective as federal OSHA’s requirements in this ETS,” according to the website. Last week, Attorney General Todd Rokita announced he will file a lawsuit against the OSHA mandate.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are strongly recommended in eligible individuals but are not mandated by the state,” said Megan Wade-Taxter, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health.

In Lake County, the sheriff and jail department makeup 533 employees, said Sheriff Oscar Martinez in a statement. The department has been receiving applications from former Chicago Police Department officers, Martinez said, as the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department remain at odds over a Chicago vaccine and testing mandate.

Martinez said three Chicago Police Department officers applied in the department’s most recent list of candidates and two Chicago Police Department officers applied on a previous list of candidates. Of those, one candidate was hired, Martinez said.

“We cannot speculate as to why officers would move from Chicago to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department,” Martinez said in the statement. “We simply hire the best qualified candidates regardless of which department they have worked for in the past. We are not actively recruiting from any single department.”

The “department has no such concerns, at present,” about officers applying from Chicago potentially being unvaccinated, said the department’s lawyer John Kopack.

When asked how the department will address the OSHA mandate, Kopack said “federal law provides that state or local government employers and employees are exempt from OSHA coverage.” According to OSHA, states with a state plan, like Indiana, have to adopt requirements to meet the standards of the emergency temporary standard.

When asked how many sheriff’s department and jail employees — including specific questions if Martinez, Chief of Police Vincent Balbo and Warden Mike Zenk — are vaccinated, Kopack cited HIPPA “and other federal and state privacy regulations.”

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said HIPAA does not apply to nonmedical providers. HIPAA only applies to medical providers and business associates of medical providers, Britt said.

But, the Indiana Access to Public Records Act does protect personnel file information of specific employees, Britt said. But, if the department keeps records of who is vaccinated, it is possible to get information about how many people are vaccinated, he said.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Department does not track the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated employees because “protected employee medical and healthcare information is kept confidential,” Kopack said.

In Porter County, Sheriff David Reynolds said of the 68 merit police officers on patrol, about 60% to 70% are vaccinated. Of the 70 jail employees, about 50% are vaccinated, he said.

But, Reynolds said he knows a few employees who haven’t been vaccinated, then caught COVID and got really sick, and have since stated they will get vaccinated when eligible.

Meanwhile, about 95% of the department’s civilian staff are vaccinated, Reynolds said. Additionally, Reynolds said he got the vaccine shortly after becoming eligible.

“To me, it was a no brainer,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said if the OSHA mandate survives legal challenges it would apply to county employees. That would mean, Reynolds said, that a potential vaccine mandate would likely come from the county not the sheriff’s department.

“We’ve been strongly encouraging everyone to take the vaccine,” Reynolds said.
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