Telling unvaccinated Americans, “Your refusal has cost us all,” President Biden on Thursday mandated that two-thirds of all US workers get COVID-19 shots, with far-reaching new rules for businesses and federal workers as cases surge.
Saying the “Delta variant” is fueling a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden called for businesses with 100 or more employees to compel workers to either get vaccinated or be tested weekly under a new Labor Department policy. And federal workers won’t have a testing option and must consent to injections with few exceptions.
“This is not about freedom, or personal choice. It’s about protecting yourself and those around you, the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love,” he said. “We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part, who want to get back to life as normal.
“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free,” Biden said in a speech at the White House.”A distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner,” Biden said.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”
The president avoided using the word “mandate” and instead used the term “requirement” throughout his remarks.
Biden also took thinly veiled swipes at Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who has banned Florida school districts from forcing students to wear masks. He referred to Florida hospitals ordering mobile morgues to hold the corpses of largely unvaccinated virus victims.
“Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs,” Biden said. “Talk about bullying in schools. If they’ll not help, if these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my powers as president to get them out of the way.”
He said the Education Department will pay the salaries of teachers or cover the funding lost by school districts who impose mask mandates.
Biden said the Transportation Security Administration, meanwhile, would double fines for passengers who refuse to wear masks. “And show some respect!” he barked.
Biden outlined the new mandates and penalties after his approval rating tanked in several recent national polls, including because of lower support for his pandemic management as the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 drives an increase in infections.
In his speech, Biden said that “we must increase vaccinations among the unvaccinated with new vaccination requirements” — saying unvaccinated people are clogging hospitals, dying and infecting others.
According to CDC data, 75.3 percent of US adults have had at least one coronavirus vaccine shot. But vaccination rates vary among states and the national infection rate is as high as it was in late January when few Americans were vaccinated.
“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. At least three quarters of the eligible have gotten at least one shot. One quarter has not gotten any, as nearly 80 million Americans not vaccinated,” Biden said.
“Twenty-five percent can cause a lot of damage… The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals and are overrunning emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer.”
Biden said the vaccine-hesitant “might be confused about what is true, what is false about COVID-19,” but that “based on available data from the summer. Only one out of every 160,000 fully vaccinated Americans was hospitalized for COVID per day.”
Biden added: “Don’t take it from me, listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds, making their final breath saying, ‘If only I’d gotten vaccinated. If only —.’ It’s a tragedy. Please don’t let it become yours.”
The new rules may be stalled or modified by litigation. The federal government has broad powers to regulate workplace safety and interstate commerce, but it’s unclear if it can force companies without federal contracts to impose the vaccine requirement.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal workers, gave a noncommittal statement on the news — saying that “workers deserve a voice in their working conditions.”
“We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so,” AFGE said.
Companies that don’t enforce the Labor Department mandate on private firms with more than 100 workers will face “substantial fines,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Biden’s speech.
The official side-stepped a question about whether employees will have to provide proof of vaccination or merely sign a form attesting to their status.
The mandates on federal workers and contractors are imposed via new executive orders. A previous federal rule required workers to attest to their vaccination status or get tested regularly.
“With unvaccinated Americans filling our hospitals and putting our kids and our economy at risk, their actions are affecting us all,” the senior administration official said.
“In total, the new vaccination requirements in the president’s plan cover about 100 million workers, that’s two thirds of all workers in the United States,” the official added.
“Federal workers will have about 75 days to be fully vaccinated… [with] limited exemptions for reasons such as religious or medical reasons,” the official added. “If a federal worker fails to comply, they will go through the standard HR process at that agency, which would include counseling, and face progressive disciplinary action.”Biden also announced vaccine mandates for some teachers and employees of health facilities that accept federal Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement.
The healthcare mandate “will apply to 50,000 providers and cover over 17 million health care workers across the country,” the administration official said, previewing the announcement.
The mandate for teachers will apply to “all of the roughly 300,000 educators in Head Start programs,” which benefit low-income young children who aren’t yet eligible to receive vaccines.
Biden additionally called on governors to require vaccinations for all school teachers and staff and urged private entertainment venues to adopt their own vaccine mandates for staff and patrons.
The raft of rules comes as a Post analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data found the vast majority of Americans who are getting serious cases of COVID-19 or dying are unvaccinated.
The CDC said about 99 percent of hospital admissions between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30 were among the unvaccinated.
People under age 12 aren’t yet eligible to receive vaccines. Of US residents older than 12, 73.4 percent have had at least one shot — but only about 53.4 percent of the entire US population, including kids, is fully vaccinated.
The virus has killed more than 649,000 Americans.
Biden’s speech comes as students are returning to classrooms across the country amid a hodgepodge of regulations. Some states, such as Florida, prohibit local authorities from mandating masks in schools.
California already requires students and employees to wear masks indoors, and the Los Angeles Board of Education will vote later Thursday on a proposal to require that all students 12 and over be fully vaccinated by January to enter campus.
Biden, who has mandated vaccines or routine testing for federal employees and the military, previously urged businesses to require the shots after the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s vaccine for use last month.
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