JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
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 requiring 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.
Reaction to the announcement was mixed.
“I’m in the health care field, and COVID is awful, and we need people to get vaccinated,” said health care worker Fred Lambrou.
His wife, Pat Lambrou, said: “Our country needs to back this up and get it done.”
A Jacksonville man, who asked not to be identified, told News4Jax that he works for a company that employees more than 100 people. He said the option to be vaccinated should be up to the individual employee. He also said conversations among co-workers about vaccinations are often a touchy subject.
“It’s always being discussed. They’re considering remote work, hybrid work, and all that comes into play with the amount of people getting vaccinated or how often they’re getting tested,” he said.
A Jacksonville resident named Aida said the mandate is a good idea if people are working close to each other.
“If you’re working in close contacts with any people, I agree. I think it’s a good idea,” Aida said.
But not everyone feels this way.
“I didn’t agree with hardly anything he said,” said Jacksonville resident Billy Walker.
Jacksonville resident Mickey Walker said: “I don’t think anybody should be required to run their company according to what the president or any government decides is right or wrong.”
Patrisha Herbert, who was visiting Jacksonville, heard about the president’s speech and offered a neutral response.
“Don’t go into crowded places, don’t put yourself in harm’s way,” Herbert said. “And if you have COVID, stay at home.”
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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
He announced that the 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 is also sending additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing. And Biden called 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 rule will 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 healthcare 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.
The president also called on all governors to require vaccination for all teachers and staff.
“Let me be blunt. My plan also takes on elected officials and states that are undermining you and these lifesaving actions. Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools,” Biden said. “If these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way.
The president encouraged children ages 12 and older to get vaccinated. But parents are divided about the topic. Herbert told News4Jax that her child has never been vaccinated. She said it was her choice as a parent to decide whether her child should be vaccinated.
“I think you should have an option. It shouldn’t be mandated to be vaccinated because, at the end of the day, we’re supposed to have pro-choice, and I think that’s very important,” Herbert said.
While the Jacksonville man who asked not to be named told News4Jax he doesn’t believe businesses with more than 100 employees should be forced to require those employees to get vaccinated, he said that when it comes to children, all bets are off.
“Anything for my kid, my daughter. I can only speak for myself, but I think we should definitely be putting the concerns of children first,” he said.
Biden’s order for executive branch workers and contractors includes exceptions for workers seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccination, according to press secretary Jen Psaki. Federal workers who don’t comply will be referred to their agencies’ human resources departments for counseling and discipline, to include potential termination.