White House plans to announce COVID vaccine requirements for federal workers: Reports

News

(WJW/AP) — The President Biden administration is expected to make a big announcement regarding vaccination mandates for federal employees Thursday, multiple news outlets are reporting.

Anonymous sources close to the decision have confirmed to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times that the White House plans to require federal employees to either show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or otherwise submit to regular testing and wear a mask.

The plans are not 100% finalized, however, one source said.

On Tuesday, Biden suggested that expanding that mandate to the entire federal workforce was “under consideration,” but offered no further details. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to require vaccinations, for its health workers.

President Joe Biden walks on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Washington.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

According to an analysis from the federal Office of Management and Budget, in 2020 there were more than 4.2 million federal workers nationwide, including those in the military.

The broader requirement would be the most significant shift by the Biden administration this week as the White House grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide driven by the spread of the delta variant and breakthrough infections among vaccinated Americans.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its masking guidelines and said that all Americans living in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission rates should wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

And just like that, masks were back at the White House.

By Tuesday afternoon, when the latest CDC data found that Washington, D.C., is facing substantial rates of transmission, White House staff were asked to begin wearing masks indoors starting Wednesday. Press were asked to follow suit, and those staff and reporters remaining in the White House were already masking up.

An aide for Vice President Kamala Harris passed out masks to the reporters covering her events earlier that day, asking them to put them on before walking in to her meeting with Native American leaders on voting rights.

Masks will also be required again at the U.S. House.

For the Senate, with far fewer members, the masks are being recommended but not required for the chamber and other indoor spaces.

“All individuals should wear a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask,” Monahan wrote in a similar letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Biden dismissed concerns that the new masking guidance from the CDC could create confusion among Americans, saying those who remain unvaccinated are the ones who are “sowing enormous confusion.”

But the whiplash on masking and vaccinations — just the day before, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had avoided questions over why the administration had yet to require vaccines for federal workers — reflects the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

Various state and local governments, private companies, hospital administrators and universities across the nation have reverted to indoor mask mandates and instituted vaccine mandates in recent months, but just 60% of American adults have been completely vaccinated, and the latest wave of the coronavirus is hitting those communities with low vaccination rates particularly hard. The nation is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

But the Biden administration had thus far avoided embracing a vaccine mandate for its own employees — in part because officials are wary of further politicizing an already fraught issue by coming down too hard on the side of vaccine mandates.

Psaki acknowledged Tuesday that administration officials are aware of the risk that Biden’s support for vaccine mandates could harden opposition to vaccines among his detractors.

“The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local, trusted voices,” she said.

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