Coronavirus: Biden sets vaccination requirement for federal workers

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday set COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal government employees and onsite contractors, saying that any employees who are not fully vaccinated will be required to undergo regularly testing and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the viral infection as officials see case counts rise nationwide.

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Update 4:42 p.m. EDT July 29: President Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House that he wanted “to talk about what’s really happening” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that no booster shots for the virus are needed “right now” for people who have been vaccinated.

The focus, he said, are on those who have not received a COVID-19 shot.

“It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said.

“We need some straight talk right now,” Biden added. “There is a lot of fear and misinformation out there.”

Biden said more than 325 million vaccination doses have been administered since January.

“We have the tools to prevent this new wave of COVID from shutting down our businesses, our schools, our society as we saw happen last year,” Biden said. “I’ve said from the beginning that we will be guided by the science.”

The president on Thursday urged state and local government officials to do more to incentivize vaccinations for Americans who remain hesitant about getting their shots, suggesting they offer $100 to encourage people to get vaccinated. Officials noted that other cash incentives offered in exchange for vaccinations have proved successful.

“This is an American tragedy,” Biden said. “People are dying and will die who don’t have to die. If you’re out there unvaccinated, you don’t have to die.”

Update 4:10 p.m. ET July 29: White House officials said in a statement Thursday afternoon that federal employees and onsite contractors who decline to get fully vaccinated will be required to undergo weekly or bi-weekly testing, wear a mask on the job and physically distance from other employees. Unvaccinated employees will also face restrictions on official travel.

The policy will apply to more than 4 million Americans in the U.S. and abroad.

“These rules should not only apply to federal workers and onsite contractors,” White House officials said. “President Biden is directing his team to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors. The Administration will encourage employers across the private sector to follow this strong model.”

Biden is also directing the Department of Defense to determine how and when the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for military members. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has previously said he would be uncomfortable with mandating the vaccine for military members until after it has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to The New York Times.

The president on Thursday urged state and local government officials to do more to incentivize vaccinations for Americans who remain hesitant about getting their shots, suggesting they offer $100 to encourage people to get vaccinated. Officials noted that other cash incentives offered in exchange for vaccinations have proved successful.

Original report: Unidentified White House officials told The New York Times that administration officials were still reviewing specific details of the policy on Wednesday. It is expected to be similar to ones announced in recent days in California and New York City, The Washington Post reported.

An unidentified White House official told the Post that the policy is not expected to include military personnel. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for most of its health care workers beginning in September.

>> Related: Coronavirus: VA requiring vaccinations for health care workers

Biden told reporters on Tuesday that officials were considering mandating that all federal employees get vaccinated. He said in a statement released that same day that he plans to “lay out the next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated” on Thursday.

“Vaccinations are free, safe, and effective to every American,” he said. “By following the science, and by doing our part by getting vaccinated, America can beat COVID.”

>> Related: Coronavirus: California requiring state, health workers get vaccinated or be tested regularly

Biden’s announcement is expected to come days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that city employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning on Sept. 13 or face weekly testing. California Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced Tuesday that vaccinations will be mandatory for state employees and health care workers beginning next month. Employees who fail to get vaccinated will be required to submit to weekly or bi-weekly COVID-19 testing, the governor said.

>> Related: Coronavirus: NYC government employees will be required to be vaccinated or get tested weekly

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that state employees will be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing by Labor Day. He added that all health care workers in the state who work directly with patients will be required to get vaccinated, without exception.

The measures come as public health officials see rising numbers of COVID-19 cases being reported across the country, driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. Simultaneously, the nation’s vaccination rate has slowed significantly.

>> Related: Coronavirus: Delta variant accounts for 83% of sequenced COVID-19 cases in US, CDC director says

“The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not showed a fortified response against it,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday. “With the delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates, and among unvaccinated people.”

Nationwide, 69% of all adults have received at least one vaccine dose as of Tuesday, according to latest data available from the CDC. About 49% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated.

>> Related: How do you know if you have the delta variant; what are the symptoms?

The United States leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest death toll. Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 34.6 million infections and reported more than 611,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 195.6 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 4.1 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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