by John E. Motylinski
On September 24, 2021, the Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) issued emergency rules aimed at implementing Governor Pritzker’s vaccination mandate for EMS personnel. Largely, the rules are duplicative of the Governor’s September 3, 2021, order:
- Fire protection districts and municipalities must require their EMS personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or to submit to periodic testing beginning September 19, 2021.
- Exemptions from the vaccination requirement—but not the periodic testing obligation—are available for those with medical contraindications or sincerely held religious beliefs.
- If EMS personnel do not provide proof of vaccination or, in the alternative, a negative COVID-19 test, they must be excluded from the work site.
- Periodic testing can be accomplished on-site if allowed by the employer. In all other cases, the employee must furnish a negative test result obtained elsewhere.
However, the new rules expand on the Governor’s order in four critical respects:
First, IDPH’s emergency regulations require twice weekly testing for those who are not fully vaccinated where the employer’s worksite is located in a county of high or substantial transmission as determined by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”). Presently, the CDC has deemed all counties in Illinois as having “high” or “substantial” transmission status. The
refore, as a practical matter, IDPH’s regulations currently require twice weekly testing.
Second, IDPH is requiring fire protection districts and municipalities to post signs throughout their facilities notifying staff of the opportunity to become vaccinated against COVID-19. The hyper-specific rules on this point require such signage to be printed on 8.5” by 11” white paper in black letters using 26-point Calibri font.
Third, EMS employers have an obligation to provide its newly hired and current staff educational materials on the benefits and potentials risks associated with the COVID-19 vaccine. Approved resources can be obtained via the CDC, the Federal Drug Administration, the Immunization Action Coalition, or Mayo Clinic. Significantly, the emergency rules indicate that IDPH may demand records of training as part of future audits. Thus, it is important to document such trainings in case IDPH asks for them.
Fourth, employers are required to keep accurate records of fully vaccinated staff, unvaccinated staff, and periodic testing. This information (including proof of vaccination, results of COVID-19 tests, and written declinations of the vaccines) should ordinarily be kept in confidential employee medical files.
Importantly, IDPH has also signaled that it may take enforcement action against those who do not comply with its emergency rules. Indeed, the new rules state that failure to comply “creates a substantial probability of risk of death or serious mental or physical harm” and, as such, IDPH may issue fines or penalties “to the greatest extent permitted by law.” Accordingly, EMS providers should ensure their personnel are complying with the statewide vaccination mandate—otherwise, there may be adverse consequences.