Out of patience with the millions of Americans still refusing to get vaccinated ten months after the first shots rolled out, President Biden blamed the holdouts for prolonging the pandemic in the U.S. and announced a multipronged plan to slow the spread of the Delta variant. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said Thursday at the White House, where he announced a new plan to combat the virus. “And your refusal has cost all of us.”
The president’s announcement comes after the Delta wave has peaked in several hard-hit states, including Florida. However, the arrival of cold weather, the return to schools, and the impending holiday season could extend the variant’s spread in states not yet severely impacted by Delta. The seven-day average of COVID deaths in the U.S. currently sits at around 1,500, the highest since last winter’s terrifying wave.
Biden said he will require vaccine mandates for employers of about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce by mandating shots for almost all federal workers; for all contractors working for the federal government; for private-sector firms with over 100 employees, constituting some 80 million workers; and for health-care workers at medical facilities that receive federal funding, a group that includes around 17 million workers. The mandate for firms with over 100 employees will be implemented through an emergency ruling from the Department of Labor and will require employers to provide paid time off for vaccination appointments. In total, the expanded requirements announced on Thursday affect around 100 million Americans, which is about two-thirds of the workforce. Just under 54 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
With children falling ill in huge numbers, forcing thousands in school districts across the country to quarantine, Biden took aim at governors who are prohibiting mandatory mask wearing in schools, such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has threatened to dock the pay of school officials enforcing face coverings. “These governors won’t help us beat the pandemic. I will use my powers as president to get them out of the way,” Biden said. If any school official’s pay is threatened, he said, “I promise you: I will have your back.”
Within hours of Biden’s announcement, the Republican National Committee and a number of Republican governors threatened to sue the administration. Biden hit back on Friday during a public appearance, saying: “I am so disappointed that, particularly some of the Republican governors, have been so cavalier with the health of these kids. So cavalier with the health of their communities. We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game.”
Biden on Thursday also announced a crucial expansion of the U.S. testing apparatus, which has largely been overlooked and underfunded since the beginning of the pandemic. The president invoked the Defense Production Act to make “testing more available, more affordable, and more convenient” by purchasing $2 billion in rapid tests, expanding free testing at 10,000 pharmacies around the nation, and requiring retailers such as Kroger, Amazon, and Walmart to stock at-home testing kits for sale at cost.