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The Tennessee Valley Authority will ask all of its employees and contractors next week if they have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and if they have not — or they opt not to answer the question — the agency may soon restrict the employees' travel or require additional tests to ensure any unvaccinated workers are not spreading the virus, TVA announced Friday.

Acting under regulations developed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, TVA told employees Friday that all workers will have to respond to a questionnaire next week on their vaccination status.

TVA is not requiring its employees or contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus which President Biden is urging for all employees in the U.S. military and some local healthcare employers like Memorial Hospital, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, PruittHealth and Elmcroft Senior Living are mandating for some or all of their workers.

But TVA said those who don't certify that they are vaccinated may be subject to additional testing, travel limits and potentially work restrictions around unvaccinated workers."

"Those who attest to not being fully vaccinated or who decline to disclose their status must wear a face covering at all times while on TVA property (in accordance with both federal and TVA guidelines), must maintain physical distance, must undergo new screening test protocols and have their official travel restricted," TVA said in a letter sent to all of its nearly 10,000 employees on Friday.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson that the new testing requirements that may be imposed for those that don't certify that they are vaccinated are still being developed.

'There will be a new testing protocol (for unvaccinated workers) and they will have their official travel capability restricted," Hopson said. "We're trying to do this in the least onerous way possible and to all that we can to put in place safety protocols to protect our employees and their families."

Last week, TVA resurrected its requirement that all of its workers, whether they have been vaccinated or not, must wear facial coverings while in any indoor TVA facility if they are around other workers. TVA said it was following the guidance on wearing masks issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has recommended the return of facial masks in most of the country where the instances of COVID-19 and hospitalizations from the virus are rising.

The number of COVID-19 infections has more than doubled in the past two weeks in Hamilton County as the deltaa variant has spread. Nationwide, the virus has killed more than 620,000 Americans over the past 18 months.

Only 43% of Hamilton County adults were fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus according to data compiled earlier this week by The New York Times.

TVA said its requirements will extend to any contract employee working on TVA property.

In a notice to employees, TVA directors and executives stressed that no one is being required to be vaccinated under the new regulations.

'Vaccination is a personal choice; you are not required to receive the COVID vaccine," the TVA notice said. 'However, you are required to fill out a Certification of Vaccination form per federal guidelines. TVA is not requiring you to disclose your vaccination status, but we are asking that you do so voluntarily."

Hopson said TVA has urged its employees to be vaccinated and provided vaccine shots at some of its work sites. But TVA is not requiring any employee to get the COVID-19 and previously has not asked its employees if they are vaccinated or not.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340

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