Biden orders tough new vaccination rules for federal government

Credit: U.S. Air National Guard / Jacqueline Marshall | License Link

It is requiring that any federal civilian worker who does not verify being fully vaccinated will be subject to universal masking, weekly testing, physical distancing from other employees and restrictions on official travel.

Posted: Aug 3, 2021 11:15 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new pandemic requirements for millions of federal workers as he denounced an “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among unvaccinated U.S. employees and others.

Federal workers will be required to attest they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new rules. The newly strict guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccination rates among the four million of Americans who draw federal paychecks and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say if ‘I’d just got the vaccine,'” Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. "This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The administration encouraged businesses to follow its lead on incentivizing vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated. Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply.

Biden also directed the Defense Department to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

Biden also urged state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots. And he announced that small- and medium-sized businesses will receive reimbursements if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.

Over and over, the president repeated that the vast majority of those falling ill and dying in this new wave of the delta virus are unvaccinated, putting others at risk and endangering the nation's fragile economic recovery and return to normalcy.

“It's an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every American. It’s such a shame to squander that blessing," said Biden.

Biden praised the recent increase in Republican lawmakers urging those not vaccinated — many of whom, polling suggests, identify as conservatives — to get their shots.

“This is not about red states and blue states," he said. "It’s literally about life and death, life and death.”

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, though Biden repeated his demand that schools fully open this fall. He also said that public health officials do not yet believe Americans need a booster vaccine despite the highly contagious delta variant fueling the surge.

Biden's move for the federal government — by far the nation's largest employer — and federal contractors comes in the face of surging coronavirus rates driven by pockets of vaccine resistance and the more infectious delta variant. A number of major corporations and some local governments are ordering new requirements on their own, but the administration feels much more is needed.

However, pushback is certain. The action puts Biden squarely in the center of a fierce political debate surrounding the government’s ability to compel Americans to follow public health guidelines.

The government directly employs about 4 million people, but Biden’s action could affect many more when federal contractors are factored in. New York University professor of public service Paul Light estimates there are nearly 7 million more employees who could potentially be affected, combining those who work for companies that contract with the government and those working under federal grants.

The pressure on workers could work because evidence shows people would rather get the vaccine than deal with burdens they consider onerous at work, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School.

“People would much rather roll up their sleeves and get a jab, than undergo weekly testing and universal masking,” he said. “In many ways, this is really not a mandate, it’s giving workers a choice.”

About 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. Biden had set a July 4 goal to get at least one shot in 70% of adults, and is still not quite there. The latest figure is 69.3.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the executive branch employed more than 2.7 million civilians in 2020, with some of the most significant numbers in Republican-led Southern states including Texas and Florida, where substantial vaccine resistance remains.

But Thursday's move is not just about federal workers.

The administration hopes it will nudge private companies push their workers harder to get vaccines that, while widely recognized as safe and effective, have yet to receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

“I think we’ve reached this tipping point, and Biden’s announcement will provide a lot of air cover for companies and boards of directors who have difficult decisions facing them," said Jeff Hyman, a Chicago-based business author and recruiter for start-up companies.

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations have moved to require vaccinations for their workers. Tech giants Facebook and Google announced this week their employees would have to show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated before returning to work.

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring workers to disclose their vaccination status though not requiring them to be vaccinated.

But fewer than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

The Biden administration hopes its federal-worker guidance will help change that, by providing a model for state and local governments and private businesses to follow as workers prepare to return to offices this fall.

There is already opposition.

State lawmakers across the U.S. have introduced more than 100 bills aiming to prohibit employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. At least six states have approved such bills.

The Justice Department and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have both said no federal laws prevent businesses from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment and the federal policy would take precedent. But the “medical freedom” bills underscore the resistance such guidance may encounter at the state level.

Government actions in New York City and California have already faced resistance from local unions. And prior to Biden’s announcement, some national unions were speaking out against it.

Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the 397,000-member United Auto Workers, said the union encourages workers to get vaccinated but is against requirements because some people have religious or health concerns.

Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents 30,000 federal officers and agents, said in a statement while the organization supports the vaccine it opposes compelling it.

“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 500709

Reported Deaths: 9977
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34312538
DeSoto32080403
Hinds31924627
Jackson24482379
Rankin21983390
Lee15530235
Madison14574280
Jones13838242
Forrest13447251
Lauderdale11985316
Lowndes11030188
Lamar10508135
Pearl River9503237
Lafayette8547139
Hancock7728126
Washington7422157
Oktibbeha7142131
Monroe6769176
Warren6682176
Pontotoc6659102
Neshoba6635206
Panola6520131
Marshall6462134
Bolivar6313148
Union602494
Pike5817152
Alcorn5667101
Lincoln5433135
George496779
Scott472698
Tippah469081
Prentiss466881
Leflore4657144
Itawamba4633105
Adams4586119
Tate4584110
Copiah448592
Simpson4445116
Yazoo443987
Wayne439772
Covington428794
Sunflower4237105
Marion4225108
Coahoma4159104
Leake408288
Newton381679
Grenada3706108
Stone359764
Tishomingo359692
Attala331489
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay307976
Chickasaw299667
Clarke292494
Calhoun279346
Holmes267887
Smith263850
Yalobusha233747
Tallahatchie227151
Greene219048
Walthall218763
Lawrence212440
Perry205356
Amite205155
Webster202746
Noxubee186640
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171542
Carroll168838
Tunica159439
Benton148738
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132437
Humphreys129238
Franklin120028
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 817054

Reported Deaths: 15320
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1145501922
Mobile724601333
Madison52172694
Shelby37533348
Baldwin37192547
Tuscaloosa35044606
Montgomery34067734
Lee23195245
Calhoun22205476
Morgan20754376
Etowah19811497
Marshall18317302
Houston17345411
St. Clair15983339
Cullman15383292
Limestone15298198
Elmore15161284
Lauderdale14225294
Talladega13802276
DeKalb12622260
Walker11162369
Blount10162175
Autauga9954146
Jackson9844182
Coffee9195191
Dale8880185
Colbert8826201
Tallapoosa7071198
Escambia6764130
Covington6699183
Chilton6627161
Russell627959
Franklin5955105
Chambers5567142
Marion4982126
Dallas4936200
Clarke474583
Pike4722105
Geneva4566126
Winston4502103
Lawrence4296117
Bibb424086
Barbour356676
Marengo337789
Monroe331463
Randolph328763
Butler325696
Pickens315682
Henry311965
Hale311088
Cherokee301760
Fayette291879
Washington251351
Cleburne247360
Crenshaw244375
Clay241768
Macon232363
Lamar222047
Conecuh185853
Coosa179739
Lowndes174564
Wilcox167939
Bullock151644
Perry138340
Sumter132738
Greene126644
Choctaw88127
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