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Officials: Tennessee can’t drop federal COVID rule despite GOP push

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee labor officials say they are unable to reject a federal rule designed to protect health care workers from COVID-19 despite receiving stern instructions earlier this week from Republican lawmakers to do so.

In a letter sent to lawmakers Tuesday, Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Jeff McCord argued that there is no state statute or process allowing the withdrawal of a rule once it becomes effective.

The federal rule, adopted by Tennessee in late August, outlines requirements for personal protective equipment, social distancing and other safety measures for workers at medical facilities that care for people with COVID-19. It also requires paid sick time for employees who contract COVID-19, need to get vaccinated or are dealing with vaccine side effects.

According to McCord, the federal government could revoke Tennessee’s authority to oversee its own workplace safety enforcement if the state refuses to comply with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 rules. The Biden administration already issued such threats to three Republican-led states this week.