Joe Biden was set to announce Thursday that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face regular testing and strict physical distance, masking and travel restrictions.
Faced with a political test as the Delta variant cuts a swath among unvaccinated Americans, the president was poised to put the government in a position to lead by example and offer a potential model for corporate enterprises.
But not for the first time, the response to the pandemic in the United States is hampered by its internal political divisions. Biden’s intervention was likely to produce a further backlash from Republican politicians warning of the government’s encroachment on individual freedom.
The highly infectious Delta variant has rebounded coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the United States, which averages nearly 62,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day. The vast majority of people hospitalized and dying have not been vaccinated.
Biden missed his goal of having 70% of adults get at least one shot by July 4; the latest figure is 69.3%. About 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated, which means that despite a head start, it now has a lower share of people fully vaccinated than the European Union and Canada.
Public opinion on vaccines appears to have solidified, with a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finding that among U.S. adults who have yet to receive a vaccine, 35% say that they probably won’t, and 45% say they definitely won’t.
Anthony Fauci, the foremost expert on infectious diseases, told Reuters: “It’s just the unfortunate confusion of two things, and it’s a virus that has evolved to be extremely effective at spreading person-to-person… superimposed almost inexplicable resistance to vaccinations. ”
Federal workers and contract workers are spread across the country, including many in states with high vaccine skepticism. Paul Light, professor of civil service at New York University, told The Associated Press: “If the federal government said that everyone who works for the government directly or indirectly should be vaccinated, that’s a fingerprint. huge.
The United States has about 2.18 million civilian federal employees, while another 570,000 people work for the Postal Service, according to 2020 data. It was not clear whether Biden plans to apply the requirement to the United States. postal service, the military or contractors who work for the federal government.
The president was not expected to impose vaccines on federal employees or suggest that those who refuse to be vaccinated risk losing their jobs. But the response to the pandemic continues to divide the country, with some Republicans already pushing back the new guidelines.
Ralph Norman, a congressman from South Carolina, said: “Requiring individuals to provide proof of vaccination would be a massive intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship and the individual’s privacy.
Congress itself has become a partisan battleground over the issue after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued guidelines that vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in transmission areas. significant or elevated Covid-19.
Some Republicans revolted after the United States Capitol attending physician sent a note advising members that masks should again be worn inside the House of Representatives at all times.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy a “moron” after McCarthy tweeted: “The threat to bring back masks is not a decision based on science, but a decision evoked by representatives of the Liberal government. who want to continue living in a state of perpetual pandemic. “
The U.S. Capitol Police Chief has announced that congressional assistants and visitors to the House side of the Capitol would be arrested if they were not wearing masks.
Republicans also forced a vote to adjourn the chamber to protest the mandate, which was defeated mostly along party lines, and there were furious clashes between members in the halls.
Many Republican heads of state are blocking preventive measures, potentially making it harder to bring virus outbreaks under control in conservative communities. At least 18 Republican-led states have moved to ban vaccine passports or ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination. Some have banned schools from requiring any student or teacher to wear a mask or be vaccinated.
Workers are also divided. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO union, told the CSPAN network that its members support vaccination mandates. “If you come back and are not vaccinated, everyone in this workplace is in danger,” Trumka said.
But the American Postal Workers Union has said it opposes a vaccine mandate for federal employees and has expressed concern over Biden’s announcement. “While APWU management continues to encourage postal workers to be vaccinated voluntarily, it is not the role of the federal government to impose vaccination on the employees we represent,” the group said in a statement. .
Even before Biden’s speech on Thursday, the White House had said masks were mandatory inside federal buildings for all employees and visitors, whether or not vaccinated, in areas with a sharp rise in infections. White House reporters are required to wear masks even if they are fully vaccinated.
The Department of Veterans Affairs – which employs more than 367,200 full-time healthcare professionals and support staff – on Monday demanded that its doctors and other medical staff receive vaccines against Covid-19, becoming the first agency federal government to impose such a requirement. The Defense Department said Wednesday evening that masking requirements would apply to the Pentagon.
Some states have announced similar requirements. Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, said Wednesday that state employees will need to be vaccinated or tested weekly.
And companies, including Google, have announced vaccination warrants. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines require new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs requires its employees to disclose their immunization status, but does not require that they be vaccinated.