President Joe Biden on Thursday announced he will require all federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face restrictions, while also encouraging states and employers to offer incentives. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
July 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a requirement that employees and contractors of the federal government must get vaccinated against COVID-19, or submit to regular coronavirus testing and mitigation requirements.
Biden made the announcement during a speech in which he announced a series of additional measures, including incentives to encourage people to get inoculated as vaccination rates have stalled and cases have climbed amid the presence of the more contagious Delta variant.
"This is an American tragedy. People are dying, and will die, who don't have to die," Biden said.
Biden said that every federal employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status and those who refuse will be required to wear masks no matter where they work, get tested for the virus twice a week, socially distance and "generally will not be allowed to travel to work."
He added the administration would also apply similar standards to contractors.
"If you want to do work with the federal government get your workers vaccinated," he said.
Biden further said he has asked the Defense Department to determine how and when it will add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of inoculations service members must get.
The president, who has tried to be particularly aggressive in mitigating COVID-19 in the United States since taking office in January, called on state and local governments to use funding they have received in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to give $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated.
"I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have gotten vaccinated already but here's the deal, if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them," he said.
Biden called on employers to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated and said the federal government will reimburse companies who make such concessions for employees.
By Wednesday, less than 70% of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, which was still below a previous goal set by Biden -- to reach 70% by July 4. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated with shots available to Americans over 12.
Studies have shown recently that vaccine hesitancy is holding among certain groups of people in the United States.
The United States has been averaging slightly more than 40,000 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, up 46.7% from the previous 7-day average, according to the CDC.
Biden's speech on Thursday comes after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it will mandate COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare personnel, becoming the first federal agency to issue such a requirement.
Biden's plan to order vaccination or regular testing for federal workers is expected to be similar to a mandate imposed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week, which requires the city's roughly 340,000 municipal workers to be vaccinated by mid-September, or tested weekly.
The CDC this week took a step backward when it altered guidance on mask-wearing, urging all Americans regardless of vaccinated status to wear masks in indoor public spaces in high-risk areas of the United States.
The CDC cited the more contagious Delta variant as a primary factor in its move, as well as vaccine hesitancy in certain areas.
Additionally, following the new CDC guidance, the White House budget office issued a memo to all federal agencies saying employees must wear face coverings indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have both underscored recently that the substantial majority of Americans who are dying of the coronavirus disease are those who decided not to receive the vaccine.
"None of us like wearing masks. People need to get vaccinated," Harris said during a meeting Tuesday. "It will save their life. This virus is no joke.
"The people who are in hospitals today with COVID-19, the vast majority of them have been unvaccinated. When you look at the people who are dying right now, almost none of them have been vaccinated."
Earlier this week, a U.S. Capitol physician resurrected a mask mandate for lawmakers in the House due to the surge in cases -- a move that House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy criticized as being entirely political and not based on science.
When asked about McCarthy's remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clear in her disdain.
"He's such a moron," she said, according to CNN.
Those who don't wear a mask in areas where they're required in the Capitol can be slapped with a $500 fine.
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo