ROCHELLE — Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle said last week that his office would not be subject to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate made by President Joe Biden on Sept. 9.
The mandate calls for all employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. The move was made due to rising COVID-19 cases and stagnating vaccination rates.
VanVickle said his office only has 78 employees and is not technically under the Ogle County umbrella that would also include all other county employees and make that number much larger.
“The office operates on its own,” VanVickle said. “The only relationship with the county is that they approve our budget. It’s separate.”
VanVickle said most of the mandates that have impacted law enforcement have been through municipalities, like the City of Rochelle. City police operate as city governments do. When asked about the mandate’s impact on his department, Rochelle Police Chief Eric Higby directed all questions to City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh.
Fiegenschuh told the News-Leader last month that the mandate would affect the city and its employees including the police department. He said the city is taking a “wait and see approach” to the issue and he thinks there could be court cases challenging the order, which could delay or change its outcome.
The city manager said he’s already had discussions with Rochelle’s legal team and their input was to wait and see what rules come from the department of labor.
“We're assessing the order and monitoring it through the department of labor,” Fiegenschuh said last month. “We want to see what regulations or rules come out from the department of labor on how they think it's supposed to be implemented.”
VanVickle said his office and law enforcement in the state has been impacted by a COVID-19 vaccinate mandate that applies to the police academy for new hires.
“I know there’s issues throughout the state,” VanVickle said. “New hires have to be vaccinated before they can go to the police academy. There have been individuals that have refused it. It’s their choice. It’s a concern. I know the City of Chicago and industries are seeing issues.”
VanVickle lamented the possibility that the academy mandate could lessen the already “record low turnout” for applicants for open law enforcement positions.
“It just compounds the issue of trying to get qualified people in to help protect the community,” VanVickle said.
The sheriff said he does not document whether or not the employees of his office have been vaccinated. He has discussed the idea of a possible mandate coming out for law enforcement with them in the past.
“It’s been talked about at our office,” VanVickle said. “We’ve told them it’s their personal choice and we’ll let them make that decision for themselves.”
VanVickle said the sheriff’s office continues to use mitigation processes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when employees interact with the community, each other, people in their offices and with operations at the jail.
“We’ll continue to take these steps,” VanVickle said. “We’ve had no active cases in the jail with inmates.”