WASHINGTON

In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.

Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the roughly 80 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

Republican leaders — and some union chiefs, too — said Biden was going way too far in trying to muscle private companies and workers, a certain sign of legal challenges to come.

Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said in a statement that “Biden and the radical Democrats ... have declared war against capitalism (and) thumbed their noses at the Constitution.”

AFL-CIO National President Everett Kelley insisted that “changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate.”

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also signing an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden announced the new requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots that has raised doubts among the public over his handling of the pandemic.

Just two months ago Biden prematurely declared the nation’s “independence” from the virus. Now, despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the United States is seeing about 300 percent more new COVID-19 infections a day, about two-and-a-half times more hospitalizations and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year.

“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said of the current state of the pandemic.

After months of using promotions to drive the vaccination rate, Biden is taking a much firmer hand, as he blamed people who have not yet received shots for the sharp rise in cases that is killing more than 1,000 people per day and imperiling a fragile economic rebound.

In addition to the vaccination requirements, Biden moved to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face covering requirements on federal property in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Biden announced that the federal government will work to increase the supply of virus tests and that the White House has secured concessions from retailers including Walmart, Amazon and Kroger to sell at-home testing kits at cost beginning this week.

The administration was also sending additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing. And Biden will call for large entertainment venues and arenas to require vaccinations or proof of a negative test for entry.

The requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation, an administration official said. The White House did not immediately say when it would take effect but said workers would have sufficient time to get vaccinated.

The rule would also require that large companies provide paid time off for vaccination.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will extend a vaccination requirement issued earlier this summer — for nursing home staff — to other health care settings including hospitals, home-health agencies and dialysis centers.

Separately, the Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccinations in Head Start Programs, as well as schools run by the Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Education, affecting about 300,000 employees.

Biden’s order for executive branch workers and contractors includes exceptions for workers seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccination, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Federal workers and contractors will have 75 days to get fully vaccinated. Workers who don’t comply will be referred to their agencies’ human resources departments for counseling and discipline, to include potential termination.

“We would like to be a model” to other organizations and business around country, Psaki said of the federal workforce.

An AP-NORC poll conducted in August found 55 percent of Americans in favor of requiring government workers to be fully vaccinated, compared with 21 percent opposed. Similar majorities also backed vaccine mandates for health care workers, teachers working at K-12 schools and workers who interact with the public, as at restaurants and stores.

Biden has encouraged COVID-19 vaccine requirements in settings like schools, workplaces and university campuses, and the White House hopes the strengthened federal mandate will inspire more businesses to follow suit. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Board of Education was expected to vote on requiring all students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated in the the nation’s second-largest school district.

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said in late July it was requiring that all workers at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as its managers who travel within the United States be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4. But the company stopped short of requiring shots for its front-line workers.

CVS Health said in late August it would require certain employees who interact with patients to be fully vaccinated by the end of October. That includes nurses, care managers and pharmacists.

In the government, several federal agencies have previously announced vaccine requirements for much of their staffs, particularly those in health care roles like the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pentagon moved last month to require all servicemembers to get vaccinated. Combined, the White House estimates those requirements cover 2.5 million Americans. Thursday’s order is expected to impact nearly 2 million more federal workers and potentially millions of contractors.

Biden’s measures should help, but what’s really needed is a change in mindset for many people, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

“There is an aspect to this now that has to do with our country being so divided,” said Sharfstein. “This has become so politicized that people can’t see the value of a vaccination that can save their lives. Our own divisions are preventing us from ending a pandemic.”

American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal employees, said that while it strongly encourages vaccinations, workers should have a say in new mandates affecting them.

“Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions,” said national President Everett Kelley. “We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so.”

Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, called the mandate for federal workers “ill conceived,” saying, “Vaccination should be promoted through education and encouragement — not coercion.”

More than 177 million Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but confirmed cases have shot up in recent weeks to an average of about 140,000 per day with on average about 1,000 deaths, according to CDC data.

Most of the spread — and the vast majority of severe illness and death — is occurring among those not yet fully vaccinated. So-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people occur but tend to be far less dangerous.

Federal officials are moving ahead with plans to begin administering booster shots of the mRNA vaccines to bolster protection against the more transmissible delta variant. Last month Biden announced plans to make them available beginning on Sept. 20, but only the Pfizer vaccine will likely have received regulatory approval for a third dose by that time.

Officials are aiming to administer the booster shots about eight months after the second dose of the two-dose vaccines.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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(13) comments

Bailey Jones

It's about time. [thumbup]

A couple of relevant stories in the news this morning -

Denmark, after achieving an 80% vaccination rate (and now has a daily COVID death rate in the single digits) is lifting all remaining COVID restrictions - https://apnews.com/article/europe-health-coronavirus-pandemic-epidemics-denmark-58f504553ea4c54bb5ae129e74989625

New studies are showing that people who had COVID last year, and then got vaccinated, are now super-immune, and "likely capable of fighting off the coronavirus variants circulating in the world but also likely effective against variants that may emerge in the future." https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/09/07/1033677208/new-studies-find-evidence-of-superhuman-immunity-to-covid-19-in-some-individuals

This thing has dragged on much longer than it needed to. We have a safe, effective, fully approved, and free vaccine. There is literally no reason now for most Americans not to get vaccinated. Stop being the problem, and become part of the solution. Your country is asking you to do this very simple thing. It's your patriotic duty. Just do it.

Carlos Ponce

He can do that for Federal employees and those with government contracts. As for private business it is un-Constitutional and FASCIST!

George Croix

Everyone needs to get vaccinated.

That aside, my President is a master at being utterly clueless about how to get people to cooperate. Setting up a cage fight is not one of them....all he's done now is guaranteed harsher resistance to what should be a simple action supported by most.

The answer is ultimately peer pressure, and real life positive reports that people trusted at the neighborhood, friends, and family level pass along, not loss of livelihood... not quite sure how putting more on unemployment will help, but my President has already shown a cheerful willingness to do that when he killed thousands of good pipeline jobs so the enviro nuts could toast S'mores and sing around a campfire and plan the next crop of vote harvesting...imho,,,...

It would likely help if he was not being so obviously handled and manipulated by Others. Few people trust words put into the talkers mouth without knowing where they actually came from....or, suspecting we're on the 3rd term of How to Divide a Country...

George Croix

White House Senior Advisor Cedric Williams, to CNN's Don Lemon:

"The one thing I admire about this president is the fact that we’re always going to put people above politics, and we’re going to fight for those who really need our help."

"We will always err on the side of protecting the American people."

Obviously, they were not talking about energy sector workers, residents on the American side of the southern border, or Afghanistan....the latter topic rendered temporarily back burner in the 'news', as planned, after the Presidential Coercion speech yesterday....

Well, it's human nature, having failed or intentionally screwed up a task, to move on to something else.....

I just wish Cedric had asked Don for that proof of Russian collusion that he claimed for 4 years...might improve his bona fides....

Ted Gillis

The host on Brietbart yesterday claimed that it’s the liberal’s plan to kill the conservatives. He claims that when liberals are being mean and bullying, it’s making the non vaccinated dig their heals in harder, effectively killing them, or some such nonsense.

That just beats all, turning it around and arguing from the bottom that by encouraging them to get vaccinated, we are really wishing them all to die.

I can’t explain it any clearer because it’s just so unbelievable stupid. People listen to this crap and believe it?

Carlos Ponce

Apparently, Ted is unfamiliar with human nature. Liberals being mean and bullying will make anyone steadfast.

Bailey Jones

Ted, say what you will about Breitbart, but they know how stupid their audience is.

Carlos Ponce

Wrong again, Bailey.

Mark Wyant

Thats a nice classic liberal response. Insult people. Who is being intolerant now?

Ted Gillis

And who knew that Galveston is considered the historic home to talk radio with KLUF radio host Roy Clough encouraging listeners to call in and debate topics of the day. Gee, now that maybe explains some things.

Carlos Ponce

"No, President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers does not apply to members of Congress and their staff"

https://www.khou.com/article/news/verify/government-verify/congress-staff-exempt-from-federal-covid-19-vaccine-mandate/536-4175a8a3-649b-4ae6-87e2-60df8a6967a8

"Members of Congress and Their Staff Are Exempt From Biden's Vaccine Mandate"

https://www.newsweek.com/members-congress-staff-exempt-biden-covid-vaccine-mandate-1627859

Bill Sterchi

Someone please explain to me how, just how, me, as an unvaccinated person, who does not have any symptoms of COVID (and most likely never will - I hope) can be the cause of INFECTION for those who are getting it? Israel is inoculated at 80% and is seeing HUGE outbreak rates throughout their little country. I do not wear a mask, but do follow distancing and standard influenza protocol.

Bailey Jones

Sure, Bill. Because most cases of COVID are asymptomatic. You could be walking around infected for weeks spreading the virus to everyone you meet and never know it. Most of the people you infect will likewise be asymptomatic. They'll go out unmasked and infect even more people. A few will get sick. Some very very sick. A few will die. That's how a deadly respiratory virus works. That's exactly what we've seen play out over the last 18 months with 41,000,000 infected and 670,000 dead.

Put on your mask. It's the absolute least effort a person can make to protect the people around them.

As for Israel - 80% isn't enough to achieve herd immunity, especially when they got vaccinated so early - those vaccinations are now wearing off, and the delta variant is taking advantage (time for a booster shot). Israel is also surrounded on all sides by people with very low vaccination rates. Even with all that, Israel's per capita death rate is still less than half of ours.

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