Joe Biden was prepared Thursday to announce that all civilian federal workers must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face regular testing and strict restrictions on physical distancing, masking and travel.
Facing a political test when the Delta variant makes its way among unvaccinated Americans, the president was ready to put the government in a position to lead by example and offer a potential model to corporate employers.
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 is likely to elicit a renewed backlash from Republican politicians warning against the government’s invasion of individual liberty.
The highly infectious Delta variant has caused coronavirus cases and hospitalizations to rebound in many parts of the US, averaging nearly 62,000 new Covid-19 cases per day. The vast majority of those hospitalized and dying have not been vaccinated.
Biden missed his goal of 70% of adults being given at least one chance by July 4; the last figure is 69.3%. About 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated, which means that despite an advantage, it now has a lower proportion of fully vaccinated people than the European Union and Canada.
Public opinion on vaccines appears to have solidified, with a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Center finding that among American adults who have not yet received a vaccine, 35% say they probably will not. , and 45% say they definitely won’t.
Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert, told Reuters: “It is the unfortunate combination of two things, and that is a virus that has evolved to be extraordinarily efficient at person-to-person transmission … superimposed on resistance almost inexplicable to vaccines. “
Federal workers and contractor employees are spread across the country, including many in states where skepticism about vaccines is high. Paul Light, a public service professor at New York University, told the Associated Press: “If the federal government said that everyone who works for the government directly or indirectly should get vaccinated, that’s a huge footprint.”
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 unclear whether Biden plans to apply the requirement to the postal service, the military, or working contractors. for the federal government.
The president was not expected to order vaccinations for federal employees or suggest that those who refuse to get vaccinated risk losing their jobs. But the response to the pandemic continues to divide the country, and some Republicans are already rejecting the new orientation.
Ralph Norman, a congressman from South Carolina, said: “Requiring people to present proof of vaccination would be a massive intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship and the privacy of the individual.”
Congress itself has become a partisan battleground on the issue after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance Tuesday that vaccinated people should wear masks. indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission of Covid-19.
Some Republicans rebelled after the United States Capitol treating physician sent a memo informing members that the masks would have to be worn again within the House of Representatives at all times.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy “an idiot” after McCarthy tweeted: “The threat to bring back the masks is not a decision based on science, but a decision evoked by liberal government officials who want to continue living in a perpetual pandemic state. “
The United States Capitol Police Chief announced that congressional aides and visitors from the House side of the Capitol will face arrest if they do not wear masks.
Republicans also forced a vote to raise the chamber in protest against the mandate, which was mostly defeated along partisan lines, and there were furious clashes between members in the hallways.
Many Republican state leaders are blocking preventive measures, which could make it difficult to control virus outbreaks in conservative communities. At least 18 Republican-led states have moved to ban vaccine passports or to ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination. Some have banned schools from requiring students or teachers to wear a mask or get vaccinated.
The workers are also divided. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO union, told the CSPAN network that its members support the vaccine mandates. “If you come back and you’re not vaccinated, everyone in that workplace is in danger,” Trumka said.
But the American Postal Workers Union said it opposed a vaccine mandate for federal employees and raised concerns about Biden’s announcement. “While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to be vaccinated voluntarily, it is not the role of the federal government to require vaccinations for the employees we represent,” the group said in a statement.
Even before Biden’s speech Thursday, the White House had said masks are required inside federal buildings for all employees and visitors, vaccinated or not, in areas experiencing a sharp increase in infections. White House reporters must 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, ordered its doctors and other medical personnel on Monday to receive injections of the Covid-19 vaccine, becoming the first federal agency. in imposing such a requirement. The Defense Department said late Wednesday that the masking requirements would apply to the Pentagon.
Some states have announced similar requirements. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that state employees should be vaccinated or tested weekly.
And companies like Google have announced vaccine mandates. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines require new hires to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs requires its employees to disclose their vaccination status, but does not require that they be vaccinated.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism