Biden to extend vaccine mandates as COVID’s toll rises

Facing rising frustration over the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden on Thursday escalated his administration’s efforts to require Americans to get vaccinated and make coronavirus testing more widely available.

The series of initiatives are intended to stanch a wave of unnecessary deaths and safeguard an economic recovery jeopardized by the Delta variant, a more contagious strain of the coronavirus that’s ripped through unvaccinated communities.

His announcement is also a political calculation that Americans will be willing to accept more intrusive government intervention to bring the pandemic under control now that the country is once again averaging more than 1,000 deaths per day.

“A distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner,” Biden said. “We can’t allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal.”

Tens of millions of Americans are expected to be affected by Biden’s announcement. Employees at companies with at least 100 workers will be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Firms that don’t comply could face $14,000 fines from the Department of Labor.

Healthcare workers at facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding and teachers who work at Head Start or Early Head Start programs will need to get their shots as well.

Biden is also tightening rules for federal employees and contractors. Although they were previously allowed to choose weekly testing instead of vaccination, that will no longer be an option. Anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated within three months could face disciplinary action, with limited exceptions.

“If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce,” Biden said.

Roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for the vaccines have yet to get their shots. The array of mandates unveiled by Biden on Thursday suggests that administration officials have concluded that opportunities for persuasion have dwindled, and government pressure is required to increase vaccination rates.

“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said. “This is about protecting yourself and those around you.”

Most of Biden’s speech was geared toward soothing vaccinated Americans, who have become discouraged as the pandemic continues. But he also sent a message to people who have refused to get their shots so far.

“What more is there to wait for?” he said. “What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient.”

Biden added, “We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”

There’s some evidence that the administration’s efforts are gaining traction. Roughly 14 million Americans received their first dose of the vaccine in August, up from 10 million in September. More than 177 million people are fully vaccinated, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, an additional 80 million eligible Americans haven’t received their first shot months after they became widely available. The country is averaging about 1,000 deaths per day, and the economic recovery slowed dramatically in August.

The struggle has dented Biden’s poll numbers. Public approval of his handling of the pandemic dropped from 69% in April to 53% in August, according to a NBC News poll released last month.

Although the economy has been steadily climbing out of its pandemic-induced recession, the recovery stumbled last month, when only 235,000 jobs were added. Many forecasters had predicted three times that amount.

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Author: Shirley