The Charlotte Observer

Biden orders sweeping rules for COVID vaccinatio­ns


In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new federal vaccine requiremen­ts affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns and curb the surging delta variant.

Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the roughly 80 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availabili­ty and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinat­ed minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

Republican leaders – and

some union chiefs, too – said Biden was going way too far in trying to muscle private companies and workers, a certain sign of legal challenges to come.

Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said in a statement that “Biden and the radical Democrats … have declared war against capitalism (and) thumbed their noses at the Constituti­on.”

AFL-CIO National President Everett Kelley insisted that “changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriat­e.”

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also signing an executive order to require vaccinatio­n for employees of the executive branch and contractor­s who do business with the federal government – with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden announced the new requiremen­ts in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronaviru­s cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots that has raised doubts among the public over his handling of the pandemic.

Just two months ago Biden prematurel­y declared the nation’s “independen­ce” from the virus. Now, despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the U.S. is seeing about 300% more new COVID-19 infections a day, about two-and-ahalf times more hospitaliz­ations, and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year.

“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said of the current state of the pandemic.

After months of using promotions to drive the vaccinatio­n rate, Biden is taking a much firmer hand, as he blamed people who have not yet received shots for the sharp rise in cases that is killing more than 1,000 people per day and imperiling a fragile economic rebound.

In addition to the vaccinatio­n requiremen­ts, Biden moved to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face covering requiremen­ts on federal property in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Biden announced that the federal government will work to increase the supply of virus tests, and that the White House has secured concession­s from retailers including Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger to sell at-home testing kits at cost beginning this week.

The administra­tion was also sending additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing. And Biden will call for large entertainm­ent venues and arenas to require vaccinatio­ns or proof of a negative test for entry.

The requiremen­t for large companies to mandate vaccinatio­ns or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcomin­g rule from the

Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation, an administra­tion official said. The White House did not immediatel­y say when it would take effect, but said workers would have

sufficient time to get vaccinated.

The rule would also require that large companies provide paid time off for vaccinatio­n.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid

Services will extend a vaccinatio­n requiremen­t issued earlier this summer – for nursing home staff – to other healthcare settings including hospitals, home-health agencies and dialysis centers.

Separately, the Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccinatio­ns in Head Start Programs, as well as schools run by the Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Education, affecting about 300,000 employees.

Biden’s order for executive branch workers and contractor­s includes exceptions for workers seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccinatio­n, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Federal workers and contractor­s will have 75 days to get fully vaccinated. Workers who don’t comply will be referred to their agencies’ human resources department­s for counseling and discipline, to include potential terminatio­n.

An AP-NORC poll conducted in August found 55% of Americans in favor of requiring government workers to be fully vaccinated, compared with 21% opposed. Similar majorities also backed vaccine mandates for health care workers, teachers working at K-12 schools and workers who interact with the public, as at restaurant­s and stores.

 ?? ANDREW HARNIK AP ?? President Joe Biden speaks about coronaviru­s policy in the State Dining Room on Thursday, announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requiremen­ts in an effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns and curb the delta variant.
ANDREW HARNIK AP President Joe Biden speaks about coronaviru­s policy in the State Dining Room on Thursday, announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requiremen­ts in an effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns and curb the delta variant.

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