Thursday afternoon President Biden announced that federal workers will need to be vaccinated for COVID or they will have to wear masks and be tested on a regular basis.
“Every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status,” the President said in a live broadcast from the White House. “Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask no matter where they work, test one or two times a week to see if they’ve acquired COVID, socially distance, and generally will not be allowed to travel for work. Likewise, today, I’m directing my administration to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal [onsite] contractors. If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.”
A fact sheet issued by the White House July 29, 2021 provided few more details:
Strengthening Safety Protocols for Federal Employees and Federal Contractors. Today, the President will announce that to help protect workers and their communities, every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel.
These rules should not only apply to federal workers and onsite contractors. President Biden is directing his team to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors. The Administration will encourage employers across the private sector to follow this strong model.
We have asked the federal land management agencies how this requirement will be implemented among firefighters. When we hear back, we will update this article.
The pandemic is still occurring, but primarily among the unvaccinated. An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May showed that 98.9 percent of hospitalized COVID patients had not received the vaccine.
Already this year Oregonlive.com is reporting that nine people working on Oregon’s Bootleg Fire have tested positive. Since this type of data is very difficult to obtain, it is possible that nine people on one fire is just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s Situation Report shows 66 large un-contained fires staffed by 21,544 individuals.
In 2020 76 people assigned to Colorado’s Cameron Peak Fire tested positive for COVID. Two were hospitalized and 273 had to be quarantined while the fire was being suppressed.
U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Stanton Florea confirmed that 643 FS wildland fire personnel had tested positive for coronavirus as of January 19, 2021.
Of those, 569 had recovered at that time, Mr. Florea said, but 74 had not yet fully recovered or returned to work as of January 19. There have been no reported fatalities in the FS tied to coronavirus, he said.
NBC News reported August 29, 2020 that one BLM employee in Alaska died August 13 shortly after testing positive while on the job. Another was in critical condition at that time.
At least 222 Federal fire personnel had tested positive according to NBC:
- U.S. Forest Service: 122
- Bureau of Indian Affairs: 54
- Bureau of Land Management: 45
- Fish and Wildlife Service: 1
- National Park Service: (would not disclose the number to NBC News)
At the end of the 2020 fire season the Department of the Interior refused to disclose how many fire personnel in their four land management agencies tested positive.
Some people may think they are in good shape and probably won’t get COVID, and if they do it will not be severe. But that is a very selfish attitude. They could get it, be non-symptomatic and spread it to their significant other, spouse, children, grandparents, work group, or anyone else they come in contact with.
There is a lot we do not know about the disease, especially the long term effects being reported by “long-haulers” or “long COVID”. The CDC reports that “a recent study found that about 3 in 10 COVID-19 patients reported experiencing persistent symptoms for as long as 9 months after illness”.
A study in the UK found that people who had COVID performed worse on intelligence tests. From Psypost.org:
“For their study, [lead researcher Adam] Hampshire and his team analyzed data from 81,337 participants who completed the intelligence test between January and December 2020. Of the entire sample, 12,689 individuals reported that they had experienced COVID-19, with varying degrees of respiratory severity.
“After controlling for factors such as age, sex, handedness, first language, education level, and other variables, the researchers found that those who had contracted COVID-19 tended to underperform on the intelligence test compared to those who had not contracted the virus. The greatest deficits were observed on tasks requiring reasoning, planning and problem solving, which is in line “with reports of long-COVID, where ‘brain fog,’ trouble concentrating, and difficulty finding the correct words are common,” the researchers said.
“Previous research has also found that a large proportion of COVID-19 survivors are affected by neuropsychiatric and cognitive complications.
“ ‘We need to be careful as it looks like the virus could be affecting our cognition. We do not fully understand how, why, or for how long, but we urgently need to find out. In the meantime, don’t take unnecessary risks and do get vaccinated,’ Hampshire told PsyPost.”
For more information, read the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s article, “To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate — A Personal Decision on the Fireline — Are You Willing to Roll the Dice?” It was written by Dr. Jennifer Symonds, the Fire and Aviation Management Medical Officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
The bottom line is, if you are hesitant to get vaccinated, don’t get your scientific advice from Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or a TV show trying to generate ratings. Check out the advice given by scientists.