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Biden administration issues employer vaccine mandates

Katie Tabeling

President Joe Biden’s administration has finalized vaccine policies for companies with 100 employees or more and health care workers. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITE HOUSE/ADAM SCHULTZ

WASHINGTON – Following through on his promise made in September, President Joe Biden finalized new policies that require 100 million workers at large companies and health care systems to be vaccinated by Jan 4.

Private employers with 100 or more employees must require their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative at least once a week. Businesses that do not comply can face fines up to $13,653 per violation for serious violations. Companies may be fined 10 times that amount for willful or repeated violations.

The president also revealed new emergency regulations for health care workers, including those at nursing homes, who work at facilities funded by Medicare or Medicaid. They too must be vaccinated by the same deadline, but there is no testing option for those workers.

In total, the new policies impact 84 million people working at large companies and 17 million health care workers at 76,000 facilities that receive federal funding.

It is the most aggressive stance Biden has taken on fighting the pandemic that has killed about 750,000 people in America, and it possibly is the first time a federal standard has been set regarding a respiratory virus as an occupational hazard outside the health care sector, according to ABC News.

Biden said he wished that the emergency rules would not be necessary, but argued that too many people remained unvaccinated to end the pandemic once and for all. As of Thursday morning, 58% of Americans have been vaccinated and 62% of Delawareans have received at least one vaccine dose. The seven-day case average in the country hovers around 1,250.

“Vaccination requirements are good for the economy,” Biden said in a prepared statement. “They not only increase vaccination rates but they help send people back to work – as many as 5 million American workers. They make our economy more resilient in the face of COVID and keep our businesses open.”

The Biden administration will enforce its vaccinate-or-test mandate for private employers through a new regulation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Labor agency tasked with regulating workplace safety. Under the emergency rule, employers must pay employees for time off to get vaccinated and provide sick leave to those who experience side effects.

But companies will not have to pay for the weekly testing, putting that burden on the employees if there is no collective bargaining agreement that dictates otherwise. Unvaccinated people are required to wear masks at work.

Since Biden first announced the aggressive policies two months ago, many Delaware companies started to roll out their own policies in concert. ChristianaCare was ahead of the curve and announced it would terminate those who did not comply and received an exemption, and 150 employees were terminated or separated by late September. 

Nemours Children’s Health and Trinity Health also made heavy pushes toward vaccination. Bayhealth, Beebe Healthcare and TidalHealth have allowed staff to be tested instead of vaccinated up until this point.

Beebe Healthcare spokesman Ryan Marshall told the Delaware Business Times that the southern Delaware health care system “firmly stands behind the science of the COVID vaccine.”

“Beebe Healthcare’s policies and procedures have aligned with state and federal health guidelines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. That will not change,” Marshall said.

Shortly after the president’s announcement, Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living said in a statement that his group appreciates Biden’s efforts, but was concerned the action would exacerbate a workforce crisis in long-term care.

“A hard deadline with no resources for providers or a glide path for unvaccinated workers is likely to push too many out the door and, ultimately, threaten residents’ access to long-term care,” he said. “Even a small percentage of staff members leaving their jobs due to this mandate would have a disastrous impact on vulnerable seniors who need around-the-clock care.”

On a local level, the Delaware Healthcare Association President and CEO Wayne Smith said his organization strongly supports that vaccination is the best way to reduce and ultimately control the pandemic, and that its members have created vaccination strategies to meet their environments. With a national standard established by the Biden Administration’s rule, the DHA will continue to advocate for vaccination.

“We will continue to work with our members and the American Hospital Association in ascertaining and speaking to any challenges that may arise from this new national policy and work with the goal of ensuring the presence of a workforce adequate to meet the service demands of patients,” Smith said. “Delawareans should rest assured that every Delaware hospital continues to present a safe and caring healing environment.”

Many office employers in Delaware like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, AstraZeneca, Amtrak, and Capital One, already require that employees either be vaccinated or tested regularly to work in their offices. The University of Delaware and Citi Bank are two rare large employers in the state that have a hard vaccine policy.

Meanwhile, Delaware’s largest employer – the state government – has been imposing vaccine-or-test requirements over the last three months. Over time, Gov. John Carney issued a vaccinate-or-test order that impacts 14,000 state health care workers, 14,000 employees in the executive branch, and at least 20,000 educators.

“Getting our vaccination rates higher is the best way to get out of this pandemic for good. That’s what President Biden is focused on and that’s what Governor Carney is focused on in Delaware,” said Emily David, a spokeswoman for the governor. “All three vaccines are safe and extremely effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. We encourage all eligible Delawareans to get the vaccine.”

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