Billings Clinic implements mask-or-test policy for unvaccinated employees

Billings (Mont.) Clinic is requiring employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 to undergo weekly testing or wear an N95 mask at work, KTVQ reported July 21.

Health system officials said the policy is in line with federal regulations and requirements and allows workers to safely care for patients as COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., according to the news station. Cases and hospitalizations are increasing nationwide, largely because of the highly transmissible omicron subvariant BA.5.

"Staff that received a qualified religious or medical exemption for the COVID-19 vaccination are required by CMS to have an additional mitigation measure," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's. "Billings Clinic has offered the following options: weekly testing, requirement of a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator or 100 percent remote work." 

The CMS vaccination mandate has been in effect in all states since Feb. 20. It requires healthcare facilities to establish a policy ensuring eligible workers are fully vaccinated, with exemptions allowed based on religious beliefs or recognized medical conditions. Hospitals are also required to have contingency plans for unvaccinated workers to mitigate spread.

But the Billings Clinic policy has had opposition, including a protest July 21 supporting unvaccinated hospital employees, according to KTVQ.

"[It's] something we could do to show support for our mom, and wife, who works here and all the others who are working hard," Andy Cummings, protest organizer, told the news station.

Billings Clinic has 4,700 employees and will provide at-home tests to unvaccinated workers who choose weekly testing. The health system is not disclosing how many staff have exemptions. 

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