WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — President Joe Biden is eagerly moving people to get COVID-19 shots after the Supreme Court halted the administration’s comprehensive vaccination-or-test plan for large employers. are.
At a time when the number of hospitals is surging and record numbers of people are becoming infected with the Omicron variant, the administration expects states and companies to order their own vaccination-or-testing requirements. And if the president’s “bully pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.
While some in the business community rejoiced at the mandate’s defeat, Biden insisted the administration’s effort was not for naught. Thursday’s decision of the High Court “does not prevent me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect the health and economy of Americans,” he said.
The court’s conservative majority rejected outright the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that employers with 100 or more employees require their employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly against the coronavirus. However, it left out the vaccination requirement for health care workers.
Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday that the federal website where Americans can request their own free COVID-19 tests Will start accepting orders from next Wednesday. Those tests could provide motivation for some people to get vaccinated, and the administration is looking to address the shortage nationwide. Supplies will be limited to four free trials only House.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA went beyond its congressional authority to enforce occupational standards, saying, “Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is an occupational There is no danger.”
The mandate was announced last September, drawing bitter criticism of Biden for the nearly 80 million American adults who had not yet received shots.
“We have been patient. But our patience is waning, and your refusal has cost us all,” he said. Unaffiliated minorities, he said, “can cause great harm, and they are.”
In a statement following the Supreme Court ruling, Biden expressed disappointment at the result, but said the mandate has already had the desired effect on reducing the number of unvaccinated adults.
“Today, that number has come down to less than 35 million,” he said without vaccination. “If my administration had not met vaccination requirements, we would now be experiencing death tolls from COVID-19 and even higher hospitalizations.”
While the court left open the possibility for the US to pursue more targeted mandates, White House officials said there were no immediate plans to redo the regulation.
“It is now up to states and individual employers to meet the vaccination requirements,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
The United States is already “sluggish,” with a 60% vaccination rate, near the bottom of peer countries, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.
“The OSHA rule was really the president’s last best shot at increasing vaccination rates,” Gostin said. But the court, “in a very partisan manner, deliberately tried to handcuff the president to do what he needed to do.”
Several large businesses that had already implemented vaccination-or-testing requirements indicated they had no plans to reverse course. But smaller companies said they were heaving a sigh of relief, fearing that if the OSHA rule was allowed to apply, there would be a staff shortage.
“The Supreme Court’s decision has “taken a bit of the worry off our shoulders,” said Kyle Caraway, marketing director of Doolittle Trailer Manufacturing, which joined the lawsuit by the Missouri attorney general challenging Biden’s policy. That about 90% of the 175 employees at Holts Summit, a Missouri-based company, indicated they would refuse to comply with the vaccination requirement.
“It became clear to us that our team was going to shrink overnight,” said Caraway, who counted himself among those opposed to Biden’s policy. He said the production halt could force the company to “consider closing our doors”.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers, said the court’s decision was a relief for health care workers, but leaves others without significant protections.
The union said, “In blocking the vaccine-or-testing rule for large employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at risk, trying to force corporations to rig the rules against workers permanently.” Huh.”
The union called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. The union said workers needed better access to testing and protective equipment.
Renewed debate over vaccination mandates comes as record numbers of Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, with the country averaging nearly 800,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths a day, and resistance to vaccines remains a problem. remains, especially in deeply conservative states like Mississippi. Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho where less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
Hospitals across the country are facing staff shortages and are being bombarded with people showing up for virus tests in emergency rooms. National Guard troops have been activated in dozens of states to assist at medical centres, nursing homes and testing sites.
A hospital on the edge of the Kansas City area had to borrow ventilators from Missouri’s stockpile state and hunt for more high-flow oxygen machines, and Kansas’ largest county said Friday it was running out of morgue space. – again.
Gostin predicted that the court’s action would have a serious impact on the efforts of other federal agencies to protect public health, ruling that OSHA could not regulate something that would have a major economic impact without explicit authorization from Congress. . And he said that the states would not be able to compensate for the effect of the ruling.
“If COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us that states cannot tackle big, bold problems, cannot stop a pathogen from moving from Florida to New York,” he said. “These are national problems that need a federal solution.”
Psaki said the White House would work with businesses to promote the benefits of vaccination or testing requirements and that Biden would highlight successful programs.
“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority given by Congress to require this measure,” Biden said. That’s why “I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up — which includes a third of Fortune 100 companies — and meet vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers and communities.” Do it.”
Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Lindsay Tanner in Chicago contributed.