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Biden to mandate vaccinations or testing at largest employers

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President Joe Biden announced a set of new vaccine mandates covering large private employers, health care workers and many federal employees Thursday night. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITE HOUSE/ADAM SCHULTZ

WASHINGTON – Frustrated by the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country and the nearly 50% of American adults who are not vaccinated, President Joe Biden unveiled a new set of more aggressive policies to expand vaccinations in the federal and private workforces.

The most significant of the measures is a mandate that all private employers of 100 or more require their employees get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Businesses that don’t comply with the new regulation could face fines up to $14,000 per violation, according to the Washington Post, which was briefed on the plan’s details Thursday.

The president also mandated that health care workers, federal contractors and most federal workers be vaccinated. Those executive branch employees who refuse the mandate after a 75-day compliance period could be terminated following a disciplinary process.

The aggressive policies, made via presidential executive orders and new federal rules, come at a time when COVID-19 deaths total about 1,500 a day and new cases total about 150,000 – figures that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has called at least 10 times too high for where we are in the pandemic response. Delaware has a seven-day average of about 373 new cases, but only a handful of deaths – the First State has seen nearly 77% of adults receive at least one dose of a vaccine.

COVID cases are rising most rapidly in states in the South and Midwest which have comparatively lower vaccination rates. In total, about 80 million Americans are eligible for a COVID vaccine but have not received one.

“We’ve been patient,” Biden said in an address to the nation Thursday announcing the new policies. “But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”

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. Earlier this year, OSHA outlined the legality of such mandates for employers in a public memo, but until now has not been called upon to enforce a vaccine rollout. The White House estimated that the temporary rule change would impact 80 million workers, although it was unclear how many of them are already vaccinated.

“Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this: United Airlines, Disney, Tysons Food, and even Fox News,” Biden said in his address. “The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers. We’re going to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the share of the workforce that is vaccinated in businesses all across America.”

Shortly after the president’s announcement, Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable, the national organization of the nation’s top CEOs, said in a statement that his group “welcomes the Biden administration’s continued vigilance in the fight against COVID.”

“America’s business leaders know how critical vaccination and testing are in defeating the pandemic, which is why so many have invested resources in encouraging and incentivizing their customers and employees to get vaccinated, including providing paid time off. Over the past several weeks many companies have decided to implement a vaccine mandate for some or all of their employees, a decision we applaud,” he said.

Meanwhile, about 17 million health care workers employed by hospitals and other institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement will be required to get their staffs vaccinated. In Delaware, ChristianaCare, Nemours and Trinity Health have already taken that step, although Bayhealth, Beebe Healthcare and TidalHealth have allowed staff to be tested instead of vaccinated. The Biden administration rule would no longer allow that as an option.

Despite supporting health systems that have mandated employee vaccinations, Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, the national trade association for hospitals, warned Thursday that the federal intervention “may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist.”

The new federal policies will likely draw legal action from some employers and states – at least three states led by Republicans announced that they would likely sue the Biden administration along with the Republican National Committee. Legal experts weighing in Thursday evening largely agreed that the proposed actions fell within the president’s powers though.

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