President Biden announced on Thursday that he will require all federal employees and contractors to either attest that they were vaccinated against Covid-19, or submit to a variety of preventative protocols including regular testing, mask wearing, and social distancing.
“Every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status,” Biden said. “Anyone who doesn’t attest or isn’t vaccinated is required to mask—no matter where they work—test one or two times a week, social distance and generally will not be able to travel for work.”
Biden also said similar standards will apply to federal contractors. The president is also asking the Department of Defense to add the Covid-19 vaccination to the list of vaccinations troops are mandated to receive. And earlier this week, the Department of Veteran Affairs began requiring health care providers and personnel to be fully vaccinated.
“The administration will encourage employers across the private sector to follow this strong model,” the White House said in a fact sheet released ahead of Biden’s Thursday remarks.
“Every day more businesses are implementing their own vaccine mandates. And the Justice Department has made it clear that it is legal to require Covid-19 vaccines,” Biden said. “We all want our lives to get back to normal. And fully vaccinated workplaces will make that happen more quickly and more successfully.”
The announcements come as the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 sweeps the nation, causing a spike in cases at a time when many believed the pandemic to be nearing its end. It’s not, and on Wednesday the World Health Organization announced that the United States registered more cases in the past week than any other nation. According to the WHO’s report, the U.S. saw a 131-percent increase in cases for the week ending July 25th over the previous week. Meanwhile, fatalities have increased by 30.7 percent in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Biden hinted earlier this week that a mandate for the nearly two million federal employees could be coming. “That’s under consideration right now,” he said on Tuesday. “But if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were.”
In his Thursday remarks, Biden also said the federal government will reimburse employers who give time off to staff to get themselves and their families vaccinated. And he urged state and local governments to offer a $100 incentive to residents who get newly vaccinated, citing success by grocery chain Kroger with a similar initiative, using funding from the American Rescue Plan. The most dramatic increases in case rates have come in Southern states with low vaccination rates, and over 99 percent of recent Covid-related deaths are among unvaccinated Americans.
Biden’s announcement follows similar mandates in the nation’s most populous state, California, and its most populous city, New York City, both of which were announced on Monday. California Governor Gavin Newsom lamented the conservative disinformation campaign that has resulted in millions refusing the vaccine. “We are exhausted by the right-wing echo chamber that has been perpetuating misinformation around the vaccine and its efficacy and safety,” he said. “We are exhausted by its politicization of this pandemic, and that includes mask wearing that has been equated to the Holocaust. It’s disgraceful, it’s unconscionable and it needs to be called out.”
Biden pushed school districts across the county to host pop-up vaccination clinics ahead of the school year to help get kids ages 12 and older fully vaccinated, with help from the federal pharmacy program. He also addressed whether people will require a third “booster” vaccine to combat the variants of Covid-19. “As of now, my medical advisors say the answer is no. No American needs a booster now,” the president said. “But if the science tells us there’s a need for boosters, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ve purchased all the supply we’d need to be ready in case that’s called for.”
Instead, Biden said the administration is focused on continuing to increase initial vaccinations. “Nearly all the cases—hospitalizations and deaths—due to Covid-19 today are from unvaccinated people,” he said, adding, “This is an American tragedy. People are dying… who don’t have to die.”