An impassioned President Joe Biden announced dramatically stronger steps Thursday to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19.
Speaking at the White House, Biden outlined six new steps to tackle the coronavirus and the rise of the more contagious Delta variant, which is largely tearing through unvaccinated populations with greater illness.
One part of his plan is sure to be controversial and could face a legal challenge: the US Labor Department, he said, will now mandate that any company with over 100 employees must ensure that every worker is fully vaccinated or show weekly negative COVID tests among unvaccinated employees.
Biden never once used the word “mandate” but mentioned several large companies that already require vaccinations. “Even Fox News,” he said pointedly, which has long questioned COVID protocols and vaccinations.
Biden also said that all employers with 100 or more workers will be required to give their employees paid time off to get vaccinated.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” he said. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”
Biden also said that all federal employees and federal contractors must now be vaccinated and noted that he is also using his authority to require vaccinations for 17 million health care workers at hospitals and home health care facilities who work with Medicare and Medicaid patients.
The president does not have the authority to mandate vaccines among large entertainment venues, but he urged them to require vaccinations among workers and customers as well.
Biden drew a sharper line than ever before between those who are vaccinated and those who refuse to get the shot.
“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We’ve been patient, but our patience is running thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”
“Listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans,” Biden said, “lying in hospital beds, taking their final breath, saying ‘if only I had gotten vaccinated.’ It’s a tragedy.”
Biden also announced $130 billion in federal funding to help schools reopen and allow school districts to implement COVID protocols. He did not mention Republican governors by name but angrily pointed a finger at those governors who have resisted mask mandates in schools. Among them are Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has threatened to withhold pay from school boards that implement mask mandates.
“Talk about bullying in schools,” Biden said of those governors.
He said any teacher who has their pay withheld for supporting a mask mandate will have it fully restored by the federal government.
Biden said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently working on evaluating a vaccine for children under the age of 12 but urged school districts to implement full COVID protection measures and ensure that all teachers are vaccinated. Biden said that nationally, about 90% of all teachers are fully vaccinated.
Biden’s other measures include a plan to get booster shots available to eligible Americans as soon as they are ready, which is targeted for Sept. 20.
He also announced that the administration is making available more at-home, rapid COVID tests for businesses and individuals.
Additionally, he announced that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will double the fines for air travelers who refuse to wear masks on planes, something that has been plaguing airlines this summer in sometimes violent confrontations.
“If you break the rules, prepare to pay,” he added.
Biden also announced an expansion of federal loan programs which allow a business to borrow up to $2 million, depending how badly COVID impacts their sales.
He also announced additional deployments of doctors and nurses to states where hospitalizations are especially are high, and the government will increase the availability of monoclonal antibody treatments, which have been found effective in reducing hospital stays for COVID patients.
As he has done before, Biden ended his press conference by leaning into the microphone and dramatically whispering, “Get vaccinated.”