By David Shepardson, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
Federal workers and onsite contractors will have to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 or wear masks, practice social distancing and submit to regular testing under sweeping new guidelines the White House announced on Thursday.
The measures are President Joe Biden’s latest effort to spur some reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the Delta variant of the coronavirus ravages the unvaccinated in particular.
Government employees who do not show they have been vaccinated will be subject to weekly or twice-weekly Covid-19 tests and restrictions on official travel.
“The administration will encourage employers across the private sector to follow this strong model,” the White House said in a statement ahead of expected remarks by Biden.
Along with the new requirements, the White House said Biden was directing the Defense Department to look into “how and when” it will require members of the military to take the vaccine, along with other required inoculations.
And state, local, and U.S. territorial governments will be able to dip into $350 billion in coronavirus aid to provide $100 payments for every newly vaccinated American to boost Covid-19 inoculation rates, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Thursday.
The federal government is the largest employer in the United States and Biden’s move could serve as an example for private businesses and other institutions to follow as they assess getting workers back into offices and workplaces.
“As a large employer, the largest in this country, who cares about individuals who keep the government running, we have an obligation to be good stewards of the workforce and ensure their health and their safety,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
Without getting into the specifics of the announcement, Jean-Pierre said federal workers would have a “choice” about what to do.
The United States has about 2.18 million civilian employees and 570,000 others work for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), according to 2020 data.
It is not clear if Biden plans to apply the requirement to the postal service. The U.S. government employed 3.7 million contract employees as of 2017, a New York University study found.
Biden’s pandemic strategy is coming under scrutiny as the Delta variant spreads and many Americans resist taking the vaccine.
Biden will press school districts to hold at least one “pop-up vaccination clinic” in the coming weeks to get children aged 12 and older vaccinated.
It said small- and medium-sized businesses will be reimbursed for offering their workers paid time off to get children and other family members vaccinated.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which has 150,000 federal employees in 34 departments and agencies, said that it has supported coronavirus vaccination efforts, including urging agencies to give workers time off to get the jab and recover from any side effects.
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which has 90,000 members including some 30,000 NASA engineers and other skilled federal workers, said in a statement that it supported a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers. “We don’t want any more of our members dying,” the union’s President Paul Shearon said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday mandated that its doctors and other medical staff get COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the first federal agency to impose such a requirement.
The VA comprises the largest U.S. healthcare system, employing more than 367,200 full-time healthcare professionals and support staff at 1,293 facilities, according to its website.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Jeff Mason, Diane Bartz, David Lawder, Nandita Bose and Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)
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