The city of Cincinnati is scheduled to begin enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement today for its workers, and health care employers and universities across the region plan to follow suit over the next several weeks.
Taken together, the mandates cover nearly 1 of every 13 workers in the Cincinnati region (or 90,000 employees) as well as 78,000 students.
More and more institutions are likely to start requiring inoculation against COVID-19 after President Joe Biden announced vaccine mandates and testing requirements for businesses with 100 or more employees. The mandate could affect more than 80 million workers across the U.S.
But how many people will the local mandates actually affect, since most local employers (including the city) won't say how many unvaccinated workers they have? And what happens if individuals refuse to comply?
In some cases, workers could be out of a job if they refuse the vaccine. Some students will be ineligible to register for classes in subsequent semesters, and not allowed back on campus at all without proof of full vaccination status.
But other institutions' vaccine policies allow workers and students to submit weekly negative COVID-19 testing results as a substitute for getting the vaccine.
There are exemptions, of course. Employees with medical or religious reasons to remain unvaccinated can submit a form requesting exemption – but that process is involved, in some cases, and institutions are going through each request with a fine-tooth comb.
A religious exemption to vaccination was enshrined in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who object to work requirements because of “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
A religious belief does not have to be recognized by an organized religion, and it can be new, unusual or “seem illogical or unreasonable to others,” according to rules laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But it can't be founded solely on political or social ideas.
That puts employers in the position of determining what is a legitimate religious belief and what is a dodge. For example, one Arkansas hospital system is asking employees seeking a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccination to answer whether they take roughly 30 medicines such as Advil because those medications were developed or tested using fetal cell lines.
To request an exemption to the vaccine requirement at Miami University, students must first complete a 10-15 minute educational module to access the forms.
"The short course is intended to provide information about the effects of the COVID-19 disease, how vaccines work, benefits of getting vaccinated, and the risks of not being vaccinated," officials said.
"For either a religious exemption or a reason of conscience exemption, individuals must provide a written statement detailing why they are requesting an exemption and answer a series of questions to assure they understand their responsibilities as an unvaccinated member of the Miami community."
Miami officials said exemption requests could take up to two weeks to review for both students and employees. Unvaccinated individuals with approved exemptions must submit to regular COVID-19 testing, quarantine for 10 days if identified as a close contact of a person with the virus and could possibly be excluded from campus facilities and activities if there is an outbreak at the university.
Most institutions say they do not anticipate problems with non-compliers, especially when large portions of their employees and/or students are already vaccinated.
That's true at Miami University, where hundreds of faculty members signed a letter at the start of the fall semester urging the university to require the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 75% of on-campus students have already provided proof of vaccination, officials said, and "that number is steadily climbing." At Xavier University, officials say 83% of students and 85% of employees are already vaccinated.
"We do expect a small number of exemptions but are not anticipating students leaving because of the mandate," Xavier spokesperson Doug Ruschman told The Enquirer. "Xavier requires three other vaccines for students to attend already. This is one additional."
University of Cincinnati spokesperson M.B. Reilly said she is also unaware of any employees leaving due to the vaccine requirement.
"A majority of faculty and staff who responded to surveys on this matter indicated support for a requirement," Reilly said.
UC Health would not share any specifics about its vaccination requirement with The Enquirer, or provide the number of employees who have already been vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Science has demonstrated that COVID-19 vaccinations have proven to be safe and effective. Overwhelmingly, they protect people from hospitalization, ICU-level care and death," UC Health director of corporate media relations Amanda Nageleisen said. "As the region’s adult academic health system, it is our privilege to care for some of the most critically ill patients in our community and it is our responsibility to do all that we can to do so in a safe environment."
All 5,700 employees with the city of Cincinnati and the city's contractors must be fully vaccinated by this date, according to the city's policy.
Those who do not get the vaccine must submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.
UC Health, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Christ Hospital Health Network are requiring all employees and volunteers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by this date.
Workers who do not comply may face termination.
Three other health care systems – TriHealth, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Bon Secours Mercy Health – have imposed the vaccine mandate but set looser deadlines, with early October at TriHealth and this fall at St. E and Mercy.
A lawsuit against St. Elizabeth's mandate is being heard in federal court in Covington Tuesday. Courts and other regulators have ruled that employers can impose vaccine mandates. A number of suits in federal courts against COVID-19 mandates have failed.
Employees at Cincinnati Public Schools are also required to submit proof of at least one dose of the vaccine by this date. It is also the deadline for the district's contractors with employees who work in CPS school buildings to sign and submit a memorandum of understanding affirming compliance with the policy.
Employees who do not get the vaccine will be required to submit their first weekly COVID-19 test result by Oct. 4, according to the policy approved by the CPS board.
"Employees who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated are responsible for obtaining tests independently & submitting their results weekly," board member Mike Moroski said.
Students, faculty and staff at the University of Cincinnati must have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by this deadline.
Faculty and staff who do not get a COVID-19 vaccine will be "subject to discipline," university president Neville Pinto said. Students who do not comply will need to submit weekly COVID-19 test results through the rest of the fall semester, and then will be unenrolled from spring semester classes.
Exemption forms for Miami University's vaccination requirement are also due on this date.
Xavier University students must show proof of having received at least partial vaccination by this date. Failure to provide this proof will restrict students from registering for the spring 2022 semester.
Students, faculty and staff at Miami University must have begun their vaccination process by receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by this date.
Students who do not comply will not be able to register for spring classes, and employees who don't comply will be "subject to disciplinary measures," officials said.
Deadline for all CPS employees to submit proof of having received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if they had just received one dose by the Oct. 1 deadline.
This is also the deadline for Mount St. Joseph University students and employees to submit exemption requests.
Deadline for all UC community members to submit proof of having received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if they had just received one dose by the Oct. 15 deadline.
Deadline for all Miami community members to submit proof of having received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if they had just received one dose by the Oct. 25 deadline.
Students who do not comply will not be allowed back on campus in the spring semester, and employees who do not comply face termination, according to the university's policy.
Jan. 3, 2022
Xavier students must complete their second dose and verify their full vaccination by this date, or they will be removed from their spring 2022 classes, according to the university's website.
The Associated Press contributed.