Saying 'mandate' oversimplifies COVID policies

December 6, 2021

By: Kat Stoll

Sometimes we use a short-hand term to refer to a proposed policy. A short-hand term can facilitate conversation. A short-hand term may reflect a bias for or against a policy. The term can be part of a marketing strategy or even propaganda. Or it can just have accidental results.

Regardless, it can change how the policy is perceived. It can hide the full truth about a policy. Once the term is coined, it can be hard to change.  

Then it becomes critical to look behind the term.

Case in point, the term “vaccine mandate.” The media is loaded with stories reporting on President Biden’s “vaccine mandate.” I refuse to use this unfortunate short-hand term. Here’s why: the policy in question does not mandate that a single worker get a COVID-19 vaccination against their will.

In fact, the policy says workers for businesses with more than 100 employees still have a choice. They can choose to get the vaccine, or they can choose to have a free, quick, simple COVID-19 test once a week.

In both the rapid test and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, a swab is inserted into each nostril. The swab is then rotated around the inside of each nostril to gather mucous. The result is analyzed.

Granted few among us enjoy a Q-tip in the nose, but come on big boys and girls, this is not torture. This is not a constitutional threat to your bodily autonomy. In my humble opinion, the Q-tip swab is less unpleasant than taking a swig of Pepto Bismol, or providing a urine sample for a drug test.

Workers are required to follow many different safety procedures in all kinds of work settings. One example is requiring rubber-soled shoes in manufacturing plants with high voltage equipment.

Obviously, this helps to protect the worker from electrocution. But it also protects the workers around a co- worker who might be entangled in an accident or reach out for help.

The above-mentioned urine test helps make sure that workers can do their job safely without harming a co- worker. Or harming the public. I want the guy that picks up my trash to be straight-up on his game when he drives the garbage truck through my neighborhood.

A vaccine or a quick weekly COVID test will help a worker know if they are at-risk of becoming ill — with an illness that is killing more than a thousand Americans every day. A tested worker, if positive, can monitor their health and seek out treatments. Importantly, the vaccine or test is designed to protect other workers from COVID-19 exposure. And ultimately, this policy protects the nation’s public health.

That’s a lot of protection gained from fearlessly facing down a Q-tip. Hardly brave, I can brag I faced the Q-tip treatment and won.

What lies behind the rather maniacal opposition to this workplace safety requirement?

It appears that some on the political right — towards the far-end of the political spectrum — are turning this into a political issue of individual freedom. This is just so bizarre. I find it hard to believe that Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., and his Republican colleagues in the Senate seriously considered shutting down the U.S. government over this issue. Manchin backed down and voted for the continuing budget resolution but issued a strongly worded statement in opposition to a “vaccine mandate.”

Why are so many reasonable people all torqued up and mad as yellow-jackets about a requirement that workers either choose to get the vaccine or get a free weekly COVID test? Again, it isn’t a vaccine mandate and we shouldn’t ever call it that. This is workplace safety requirement that protects your co-workers and their families and the public — especially our older folks and those with chronic health issues.

I don’t buy that there is a God-given or constitutional right to dodge a Q-tip. This is a warped debate — especially considering the threat of a new COVID-19 variant.

The only freedom at stake here is the right for all workers to be safe at their workplace — the freedom to make a living with a lowered risk of exposure to illness or even death for themselves or family members.

Maybe I will put a sign on my door: “Warning: This home protected by Q-tips.” Pretty scary, huh?

Kathleen Stoll serves as the Policy Director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care ( and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.


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