President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a sweeping plan to boost COVID-19 vaccinations, including a requirement that all businesses with more than 100 workers must require employees to be vaccinated, or test them weekly.
The move would impact about 80 million Americans. Biden said the new requirement would be made through a new rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Failure to comply would carry penalties of $14,000 per violation, according to The Associated Press.
Biden is also signing an executive order mandating COVID vaccinations of the approximately 17 million workers in healthcare facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid. The plan also calls for all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, with few exceptions.
“We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” Biden said Thursday
Biden’s plan also calls for state governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff.
“Currently, nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have vaccination requirements for K-12 school staff, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington,” according to a White House document.
“Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new. They work,” Biden said.
Alabama’s State Superintendent Eric Mackey during an Alabama Board of Education work session Thursday, prior to Biden’s speech, said he’s encouraged parents to get their children 12 and older vaccinated, and urged school staff to get vaccinated as well, but said it’s his understanding that neither he nor the state school board can mandates local system employees to be vaccinated.
Mackey said local school boards may be able to require teachers and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but that it’s “questionable.” He said the state has lost students to COVID-19 deaths this school year but said he couldn’t disclose where those deaths occurred.
“I’ve talked to a superintendent who lost multiple teachers in one school, and he still has five adults that refuse to get vaccinated,” Mackey said. “We have teachers and custodians and some of our people that absolutely refuse to be vaccinated.”
“I’m really struggling with why we have any adults that are in our schools that are not vaccinated. I don’t understand it,” Mackey said.
Alabama schools are expected to add more than 10,000 new COVID cases among students and staff this week, Mackey said. The Alabama Department of Public Health’s K-12 COVID dashboard is expected to update with this week’s numbers Friday afternoon.
Biden’s plan will also require teachers and staff at federally-funded “Head Start and Early Head Start programs, teachers and child and youth program personnel at the Department of Defense (DOD), and teachers and staff at Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools get vaccinated.”
Biden will also use the Defense Production Act to increase production of rapid COVID-19 tests, and WalMart, Amazon and Kroger will offer at-home rapid tests at up to a 35 percent discount for the next three months.
Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement after Biden’s announcement said she’s against government-mandated vaccinations, but encouraged all eligible Alabamians to get vaccinated.
“His outrageous, overreaching mandates will no doubt be challenged in the courts. Placing more burdens on both employers and employees during a pandemic with the rising inflation rates and lingering labor shortages is total unacceptable,” Ivey said.
Vaccinations have increase in Alabama in recent weeks, but the state still has the smallest percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the nation, at 39.6 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alabama on Thursday had 60 fewer ICU beds statewide than patients needing that care, and 51 percent of all ICU patients had COVID-19, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Of the 2,667 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama on Thursday, 83 percent were unvaccinated.