DAYTONA BEACH — Business owners here reacted cautiously to reports of President Biden’s plan to require companies with more than 100 employees to mandate that their workers get vaccinated or face weekly testing.
“Personally, I have been vaccinated, but I do believe that’s a personal choice,” said Randy Dye, a local auto dealer who employs 130 workers at the Daytona International Auto Mall. “We won’t break the law, but it’s not the law yet.”
Concerns over added costs
Dye is one of a number of Volusia-Flagler area employers who expressed mixed feelings about the impending federal mandate.
“I can understand the President is frustrated with the slow pace of vaccinations and why he would want to have more people vaccinated, but I have concerns about the implementation of his new proposal,” said Melissa Burt DeVriese, chief administrative officer for Security First Insurance in Ormond Beach. The company employs 425 people.
“Is it going to be feasible to have enough tests for everyone who is unvaccinated to get tested weekly? And who pays for the tests?,” asked DeVriese.
The Biden Administration on Thursday announced it will authorize the federal government to spend nearly $2 billion to purchase COVID testing kits as well as plans to ship 25 million free tests to community centers and food banks throughout the country, according to various news reports.
Under the proposed mandate, which will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, businesses that don’t comply could also face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
DeVriese expressed concerns about the added costs to employers even with the federal government’s purchase of COVID tests. “I’ve seen over-the-counter tests cost from a low of $12.50 to more than $100 per test,” she said. “If we had to test 200 of our 425 employees on a weekly basis, I calculate that would cost us a minimum of $135,000 annually. And that cost comes at a time when we are already bearing the increased cost for goods and services that most individuals are facing in their day-to-day lives.”
Security First in August offered to pay a $100 bonus to any of its employees who got vaccinated that month. “We have always encouraged our employees to get vaccinated,” said DeVriese. “We offer paid time off to get the vaccine or recover from the vaccine. We (also) helped organize a vaccination drive at Halifax Hospital for our employees and their family members.”
‘Medical privacy is still important’
Brendan Galbreath, the owner of Aunt Catfish’s on the River in Port Orange, said his restaurant employed 140 workers before the pandemic, but now only has 90 because of attrition and difficulties in filling open positions because of the ongoing labor shortage.
While Galbreath would not be required to get his employees vaccinated under the coming Biden mandate, he questioned how independent family-owned businesses such as his could afford to comply.
“We have the challenge of just staying in business and paying bills with the last 20 months being so tough,” he said. “I’m not looking to take on extra administration responsibility.”
Galbreath said he does not know how many of his employees are vaccinated, adding, “medical privacy is still important. Masks are optional for employees and customers.”
COVID ‘is no joke’
Dye is the owner of Daytona Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram & Fiat and Maserati Alfa Romeo of Daytona Beach. He is also a past chairman of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve lost friends of mine and last year an employee to COVID so I know it’s no joke, that’s for sure,” said Dye who personally came down with the coronavirus early this year before he got his vaccination shots this summer.
“I lost my sense of taste and smell, so I knew I had COVID,” said Dye, who credits his recovery to quick action in terms of treating the coronavirus. “We got after it right away and didn’t require hospitalization. Compared with a lot of folks, I was blessed.”
“I’d say about 65% of our employees are vaccinated,” Dye said. He added that he personally struggled in deciding whether to get vaccinated himself, but finally agreed to do it after getting advice from both his physician as well as “a couple pretty stellar health professionals in our community.” He got his second Pfizer shot in August.
Dye said he can see why Biden is planning to issue his mandate, but said, “if the goal is to get everybody vaccinated, how can a business that only has 25 people not be included in this? It doesn’t make sense. Small businesses are the backbone of this country. I think there’s more conversations that are going to take place.”