LEWISTON — What will be the local impact of President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate? 

Shanna Cox, president and CEO, Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Submitted photo

The message from Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Shanna Cox: “Stay tuned.” 

On Friday, Cox said she had already heard from many business leaders in the area concerned about the coming mandate. 

Some are worried that the move will make the problem of staff shortages even worse. Others are just waiting to see how things develop since, as of Friday afternoon, the mandate itself was still just a concept. 

“One of the things that has really stood out to us is that the new mandate by Biden isn’t official,” Cox said. “It doesn’t include the rulemaking and it’s being handled through OSHA. So, it seeds the expectation that something is coming and puts everybody on alert to be thinking about that.” 

Lewiston and Auburn may feel the impact more than other areas, Cox said. In the Twin Cities, the overwhelming majority of businesses have fewer than 100 employees and thus, won’t be affected by the mandate. 

“Between 94 to 96% are small businesses,” Cox said. “And so there’s a number of employers this will impact but the overwhelming majority of businesses fall under the 100. Small businesses is a really large sector of our economy.” 

The business leaders Cox stated she had heard from on Friday were in the process of examining things like vaccinations rates among their workers as they prepare to take on what comes next. 

“Most of the members that I’ve been in touch with are kind of reviewing what they know of their staffs,” Cox said. “That’s kind of the first step; taking an inventory, figuring out where they land. There’s some expectation of which types of businesses or industries are going to be able to opt out and enroll into a program for testing. So, I think people are looking for that in the rulemaking to figure out what path they have to take, how it’s going to impact them.” 

The workforce shortage, Cox said, is heavy in the minds of business owners across the area. Small businesses and larger ones alike have been impacted by the shortage, she said. Virtually no company is immune. And if more workers leave their jobs rather than take the vaccine, that shortage may become more profound. 

“People are tense about it,” Cox said. 

She said some business owners are already looking at what they’ll need to do to offer COVID testing to employees who don’t wish to take the vaccine. In his speech on Thursday, Biden suggested that federal funding will be made available to accommodate such testing. 

“There are a lot of moving parts that people are paying attention to,” Cox said. “I think a lot of the proof is going to be in the pudding. It’s going to be in the details.” 

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