Biden to require COVID-19 vaccines, tests for millions of private workers

President Biden will announce a new rule Thursday to require all private employers with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing.

A senior administration official said the rule will be issued from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration “in the coming weeks,” and the implementation timeline will likely mirror the roughly 90 day window other private sector employers, like Tyson Foods and United Airlines, have required.

The requirement could impact nearly 80 million workers, the administration official said, and if a business fails to comply with the rule they could face fines up to $14,000 per violation. 

The administration will also require those same companies to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated. 

The new rule for employers is one in a series of new aggressive steps that Biden will announce in a speech Thursday evening to boost vaccination rates in the coming weeks and rapidly scale up the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity, according to senior administration officials familiar with the plans. 

The new national strategy, dubbed “Path Out of the Pandemic,” represents a redoubling of the administration’s efforts to combat the threat of the delta variant of the coronavirus. The administration has muddled through a summer marked by rising infections and fierce resistance to public health measures from many Republican governors. 

The speech comes as Biden faces pressure to act more forcefully on the pandemic. After receding earlier this summer, the delta variant has fueled a new spike, with about 150,000 new cases daily and over 1,000 deaths per day.

Biden is also dramatically expanding vaccination requirements for health workers. Last month, the administration said it would require all staff at about 15,000 nursing homes to be vaccinated to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, a move that would affect about 1.3 million employees. The rule is expected to be issued later this month.

Under the new plan, workers in most other health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including major hospitals, will need to be vaccinated. The rules would affect 50,000 providers and about 17 million workers, but officials did not have an immediate effective date. 

The administration will also impose sweeping new vaccination requirements on federal employees and contractors. 

A senior administration official told reporters that under a new executive order to be announced by the president, federal employees will have 75 days to be fully vaccinated, with limited exemptions for religious or medical reasons. There will be no testing option. The order will cover about 100 million workers. 

“It’s simple; if you want to work for the federal government, you must be vaccinated. If you want to do business with the government, you must vaccinate your workforce,” the official said.

Vaccines will also be mandatory for all teachers and staff at Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as schools and youth programs operated by the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Education.

The embrace of mandates represents a major escalation for the administration, which was previously reluctant to impose them. But significant questions about implementing the new requirements remain, and the administration is sure to face opposition, and not just from GOP governors like Texas’s Greg Abbott and Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal workers, immediately pushed back on the stronger mandate. The union said that while it has been urging members to get vaccinated, changes in policy need to be bargained.

“Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions,” AFGE President Everett Kelly said.   

President Biden will also call on governors to get all teachers and school staff vaccinated, and will urge schools to set up regular COVID-19 testing, consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

Public health experts think regular screening of children and staff will help stop infections from spreading.

The federal government in the spring set aside $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 screening tests for teachers, staff and students, but few took advantage as cases dropped.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine Greg Abbott Joe Biden Ron DeSantis vaccine mandates
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