On Thursday, President Joe Biden ordered several new COVID vaccine mandates that will impact tens of millions of Americans, including at least hundreds of people living on Kodiak.
In his White House address, Biden sharply criticized the 80-some million Americans who are not vaccinated even though vaccines have been widely available for much of the year.
The new mandates require all federal employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated, and companies that have more than 100 employees must require their workers to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing provided by their employer.
Businesses that do not follow these mandates can be fined as much as $14,000 by the Department of Labor. Medical or religious exemptions are the only exceptions for federal employees not being vaccinated.
The number of employees working for the federal government or a federal contractor in Kodiak was not immediately known. In Kodiak, there are fewer than 10 companies, nonprofits or government entities that employ or are thought to employ more than 100 people, according to Kodiak Daily Mirror research. But, collectively, they comprise a large portion of Kodiak’s workforce. In no particular order, they are North Pacific Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods, Safeway, Walmart, Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, the City of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough School District.
For some of these businesses, the vaccine mandate is unnecessary. Providence Health & Services, the nonprofit that operates the Kodiak hospital and dozens of others across multiple states, already is on track to require all of its employees across the state to be vaccinated by the end of September.
Silver Bay Seafoods, which employs about 240 workers, implemented its own vaccine requirement at the start of the year, according to the Office Manager Daegi Shin. Although North Pacific Seafoods has not required its employees to get vaccines, 222 of its 223 Kodiak workers chose to get vaccinated on their own, General Manager Matt Moir said.
Other large companies with a Kodiak presence are still waiting for guidance. As of Thursday, the local Safeway hadn’t received any instructions from its corporate office on how to proceed, according to Front-End Manager Nate Belanger.
To date, the school district has offered vaccines to its employees, staff and students through a vaccine clinic, but it has not required anyone to be vaccinated. It was not immediately clear whether school districts or programs not receiving federal funding are included in Biden’s new mandates, and Superintendent Larry LeDoux wasn’t ready to make any announcements when contacted by KDM on Thursday.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said when making the announcement. “This is about protecting yourself and those around you. What more is there to wait for? What more do you need? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient.”
Currently, about 1,000 people in the United States are dying every day because of COVID or COVID-related symptoms. In Kodiak, there have been seven deaths associated with the virus, according to data collected by the Kodiak Emergency Operations Center.
Although more than 177 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID in the United States, about 80 million people who have been eligible for the vaccine for at least six months have not been vaccinated. In Alaska, only 56% of Alaskans age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, but 61.5% of that demographic have received their first shot, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services.
The state has started giving out weekly awards of $49,000 to adults and teens who get vaccinated. This is a part of the Alaska Chamber’s Give AK A Shot lottery, which is meant to incentivize people to get vaccinated. This program, which started at the beginning of the month, will go through the end of October.
Tribune News Service contributed to this article.