Unvaccinated American workers are facing increasing pressure to get Covid-19 shots, as the country sees a dramatic rise in the number of government and private sector employers pushing inoculations for those who want to come to work.
The moves, which picked up pace this week, came as the highly contagious Delta variant helped send daily Covid-19 case rates higher and spurred the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new masking guidance.
Employers’ emerging vaccine policies take many forms, including those requiring shots for being on site, and those that provide alternatives such as strict testing and masking rules.
Federal workers are expected to hear their directives Thursday. President Joe Biden is planning to announce that all federal employees, except for the military, must attest to being vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict protocols including regular testing, masking and other mitigation measures, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner said she is for such requirements, in part because they could boost vaccination levels to a point where virus levels can be tamped down.
“I think the federal government is signaling now: ‘Hey, vaccine mandates are a good idea.’ … It gives cover to these businesses that have long wanted to do this,” Wen said Thursday.
Corporate America is increasingly jumping on board.
On Wednesday, Google and Facebook became the first two Silicon Valley giants to require employees to be vaccinated when they return to the companies’ campuses.
BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is currently allowing only vaccinated employees to return to the office, and will issue an updated policy for unvaccinated employees later in the summer, a spokesperson for the company said. Rideshare company Lyft is requiring everyone working in its offices to be vaccinated by August.
Some are tying vaccinations to employment outright. A major New York City restaurant group will make vaccinations “a condition of the job” by September 7, its leader told CNN Thursday.
“Why in the world would we just stand by and not take action right now?” Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, told CNN “None of us wants to turn back and experience” any more consequences of rising cases, like the banning of indoor dining, he said.
These moves come after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in May that employers could require vaccination of employees if they allow religious and medical exemptions.
Earlier this month, Justice Department lawyers determined that federal law doesn’t prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring Covid-19 vaccines — even if the vaccines have only emergency use authorization.
As the Delta variant has increased its grip in the US, coronavirus case rates have jumped.
The US averaged more than 63,600 new daily cases over the last week — an average that’s generally risen since the country hit a 2021 low of 11,299 daily on June 22, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
As of Wednesday, cases rose in all but one state in the past seven days compared to the week before, and cases rose at least 50% in 36 states in that time, according to Johns Hopkins.
‘We’ve hit a wall’ on vaccinations, expert says
The culprit is an insufficient rate of vaccinations, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee.
“We’ve hit a wall,” Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. “We’ve gotten to the point where you have to compel people to do the right thing.”
The rate of people getting their first Covid-19 vaccine shot has risen in recent days. An average of 382,106 people initiated vaccination each day over the last week — a 35% increase over last week’s pace, and the highest average in the three weeks, CDC data shows.
“There was a time we were giving 3 million doses a day. If we’d stayed that course, we could be at roughly 80% population immunity,” Offit said.
Wednesday’s Washington Nationals MLB game against the Philadelphia Phillies was postponed after 12 members of the Nationals — four players and eight staff members — tested positive for Covid-19.
The climbing case numbers have pushed some areas to return to mask requirements:
• The mayor of Atlanta issued an executive order Wednesday requiring masks in all indoor public places.
• In Kansas, state employees and visitors will be required to wear masks indoors starting Monday.
• The Pentagon implemented an indoor mask requirement regardless of vaccination status.
But other leaders are pushing back against the return to pre-vaccine precautions.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted Wednesday that he will not issue any mask mandates or lockdowns in the state.
Georgia is one of the 35 states where new cases in the past week were more than 50% higher than the week prior. Currently 38.5% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
“The biggest obstacle to getting more people vaccinated and the country returning to normal is the mixed messages from Washington, D.C., and those with partisan agendas. In Georgia, we have been consistent,” Kemp said in his tweets.
Health experts have said the changes in recommendations, like those made to mask guidance, are the result of under vaccination and the Delta variant changing the landscape of the pandemic.
Experts advocate for vaccine mandates as hesitancy grows
Despite education efforts, increased accessibility and financial incentives in many places, vaccination rates have slowed — a worrying trend for health experts who say vaccination is the best hope to end the pandemic.
Overall vaccine hesitancy has decreased during the past couple of months, but some Republicans are more likely to refuse a Covid-19 vaccine now than they were in March, according to survey data published Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core.
About 46% of Republicans who most trust far-right news said they will refuse to get vaccinated, up from 31% who said the same in March, the survey found. However, 77% of Republicans who most trust mainstream news outlets and 64% of Republicans who most trust Fox News are “vaccine accepters,” according to the survey data.
Among Democrats, 85% are vaccine accepters, up from 73% in March, and 71% of independents are vaccine accepters, up from 58% in March, according to the survey data.
One motivator that might help overcome the hesitancy, some officials and experts have suggested, is vaccine mandates. And many places have begun implementing them.
The New York State Court System announced Wednesday that all employees will have to undergo regular Covid-19 testing if they are not already vaccinated, according to a statement. And the Durst Organization, one of New York City’s largest real estate developers, said employees who remain unvaccinated after Labor Day will be fired.
The Baylor Scott & White Health system in Texas announced Wednesday all 49,000-plus employees, volunteers, vendors and students will be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by October.
“The Delta variant is the most contagious and dangerous strain we have seen to date, leading to exponentially increasing rates of severe illness and hospitalization. The overwhelming majority of these cases are among the unvaccinated,” the company said in a statement.
At Maui Memorial Medical Center, visitors are now required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 due to a surge on the island, hospital CEO Michael Rembis told CNN affiliate Hawaii News Now.
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