Guam vaccine mandate to remain even after US Supreme Court ruling

PROOF OF VACCINATION: A customer presents his vaccination card Sept. 7, 2021, before entering the dining area of the Micronesia Mall Food Court in Dededo. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

The government of Guam has said its authority to require certain establishments to have their employees vaccinated against COVID-19 isn't affected by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against requiring vaccinations in a wide swath of workplaces across the country.

The federal government's vaccine-or-test requirement, via the application of a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation, could have applied to about 84 million people, according to The Washington Post's estimate.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that COVID-19 "is not an occupational hazard in most."

"COVID-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather," the Supreme Court order says, according to a Washington Post report. "That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life - simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock - would significantly expand OSHA's regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization."

The Supreme Court did say the federal government has the power to require vaccinations for people who work in hospitals and clinics that receive federal funds via the Medicare and Medicaid programs – unless they can obtain exemptions based on health or religious reasons.

While, in general, federal law trumps Guam law, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said she has the authority under the federal Organic Act of Guam to require vaccination among GovGuam employees and for the local Department of Public Health and Social Services to require vaccination among those employed at certain establishments.

The Guam Daily Post asked the governor if the U.S. Supreme Court decision would prompt a change to her vaccination policy, which resulted in business establishments such as restaurants requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor customers.

"No. The issues are not the same. Under the Organic Act, the governor has supervisory control over the employees of the executive branch," the governor said in a statement released by Krystal Paco-San Agustin, the governor's communications director.

"Therefore, it was in her authority to require that employees of the executive branch vaccinate against COVID-19," Paco-San Agustin said. "The Department of Public Health and Social Services, which functions as our public health authority and issued the guidance that requires covered establishments to have their employees vaccinated against COVID-19, is statutorily empowered to require such vaccinations in order to protect against the spread of contagious disease."

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