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President Joe Biden is expected to announce Thursday that all federal employees will have to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they want to keep working for the federal government, marking his administration’s most aggressive effort yet to boost vaccination rates as the Delta variant surges all over the country.
Biden is set to make the announcement in a Thursday afternoon speech, according to multiple reports. While some states have offered frequent testing for COVID-19 to workers as an alternative to vaccination, there will be no option for testing for federal workers. Biden will also sign an executive order requiring employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated, CNN reported.
“This is certainly one of the ways that we've seen more people get vaccinated,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a Wednesday press briefing. “We've seen it be effective, and we've seen it rise in approval and support across the country as people who are vaccinated are increasingly popular.”
Asked if the “new steps will affect the average American’s day-to-day life,” Psaki responded: “It depends on if you’re vaccinated or not.”
There were more than 2.1 million federal workers as of June 2021, according to the Congressional Research Service. Some federal departments, such as the Department of Interior, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and Department of Health and Human Services, have already announced some form of a vaccine mandate for employees.
After a start to the summer where COVID-19 cases were at a pandemic low, the virus has spread rapidly over the past two months as the more transmissible Delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus. More than 100,000 people across the country are currently hospitalized, and the country is averaging more than 1,500 deaths a day, according to the New York Times—far fewer than last winter’s peak, but approaching levels seen during the first wave of the coronavirus in spring 2020.
The vast majority of those hospitalized due to COVID have been unvaccinated. Parts of the country that have lower vaccination rates, such as the Deep South and parts of the Northwest like Idaho and rural Oregon, have been hit much harder than the Northeast, the most vaccinated region of the country. Hospitals have hit capacity in several states, and the state of Idaho authorized hospitals in the northern region to ration care if necessary earlier this week.
Overall, 53 percent of all Americans are fully vaccinated with either two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine was granted full approval for people over the age of 16 by the Food and Drug Administration last month and has been authorized for emergency use for children between 12 and 15; Moderna submitted its application for full approval last month.
Exact details of Biden’s plan haven’t been released. But aside from getting people vaccinated, the new effort reportedly includes booster shots for those who’ve already been vaccinated; ramping up testing and mask requirements; keeping schools open; improving care for people who’ve already contracted the illness; and maintaining the improving economic situation, according to multiple reports.
Last week new unemployment claims fell to their lowest point since the beginning of the pandemic last year, according to the Department of Labor, but the rise of Delta has made the situation still tenuous at best. Regardless, Biden highlighted the encouraging job numbers Thursday as evidence of a “durable recovery.”
“Despite the ongoing impact of the Delta variant, the evidence is clear: The Biden plan is working, we are seeing real results, and the American economy is on the move again,” Biden said in a statement.