President Joe Biden announced yesterday that COVID-19 vaccines will be mandated for federal employees, including onsite federal contractors, as the country continues to see surges in Delta variant cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 83% of COVID cases in the U.S. are from the Delta variant, which is exponentially more contagious than previous variants. The new mandate is an attempt to encourage vaccinations as the Delta variant ravages areas of the country with low vaccination rates.
“It’s time to impose requirements on key groups to make sure they’re vaccinated,” Biden said.
According to a fact sheet from the White House, the president is directing his administration to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors, and will encourage employers in the private sector to follow suit in mandating vaccines. Federal law doesn’t prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.
The mandate states that those who decline to get vaccinated will have to undergo frequent testing, practice social distancing, wear masks and have restrictions on official travel.
The announcement was not without some incentives for businesses. Small- and medium-sized businesses will now be reimbursed for offering employees paid leave to get family members, including children, vaccinated. The American Rescue Plan is already reimbursing any small- to medium-sized businesses that provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated.
Biden also called upon state and local governments to use American Rescue Plan funding to offer a $100 incentive for people to get vaccinated. The White House pointed to states like New Mexico and Ohio that saw vaccination rates increase through $100 incentive programs.
“It might sound unfair to folks who got vaccinated already, but here’s the deal — if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them,” Biden said. “We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.”
When asked whether he wanted to see vaccine mandates in private companies, Biden said he wants to see them continue moving in that direction.
“It’s still a question of whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don’t know that yet,” he said.
A recent survey shows that nearly half (46.4%) of those who identified as being in the construction, oil and gas extraction or mining industries answered they “probably” or “definitely” would not choose to receive the vaccine.
Resume Wearing Masks Indoors
The vaccine mandate comes days after the CDC recommended that people, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in indoor settings in response to the surge in Delta variant cases.
The majority of transmissions are caused by unvaccinated people in areas with low vaccination rates. However, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said there have been rare cases of breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals caused by Delta, meaning they might transmit the virus as well.
“This new science is worrisome, and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendation,” said Walensky.
The CDC’s new guidelines call for all people to wear masks indoors in regions that have substantial or high rates of transmission. This is a near-reversal of what the CDC announced in May, when it said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most situations.
Walensky said this recommendation is intended to help protect people who are unable to get a vaccine, like children or the immunocompromised. She said wearing masks will help prevent further transmission of the virus before variants even more dangerous than Delta can develop and spread.
“The big concern is that the next variant that might emerge, just a few mutations potentially away, could potentially evade our vaccines,” she said.
States with high rates of transmission, according to CDC data, are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
States with substantial rates of transmission are: Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington.
In an update on its website, the International Roofing Expo, which will be held in Las Vegas Aug. 10-12, is requiring attendees to wear masks as a result of the CDC guidelines. Should the transmission rate fall before the expo begins, masks will be recommended, but not required.
Walensky said the decision was not made lightly to reintroduce mask wearing to vaccinated people, and urged people to get vaccinated if they are able.
“Getting vaccinated continues to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death, even with Delta,” she said. “It also helps to reduce the spread of the virus in our communities.”