President Joe Biden on Thursday said federal government workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or wear masks and be regularly tested, as the White House takes extra steps against the delta variant.
“Every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask, no matter where they work, test one or two times a week to see if they’ve acquired COVID, socially distance, and generally will not be allowed to travel for work,” said Biden, in remarks from the White House.
“Likewise, today, I’m directing my administration to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors. If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.”
Biden spoke as the highly infectious delta variant is spreading fast, especially in states with low vaccination rates. As his administration is struggling to persuade vaccine hold-outs to get their shots, more than 97% of current cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people.
Biden also outlined other measures, saying the U.S. government now will reimburse employers who give their workers time off so they can get not just themselves vaccinated but also get their family members vaccinated.
In addition, the president called on all states and local governments to use aid funding they have received to give $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated. Plus, he said he’s asking the Pentagon to look into adding COVID-19 shots to the list of vaccinations that American troops are required to get.
“I know it’s exhausting to think we’re still in this fight. I know,” Biden said. “I hoped this would be a simple, straightforward line without problems or new challenges, but that isn’t real life.”
The president’s directive for federal workers and onsite contractors mirrors actions taken by some private-sector companies. Both Google
for example, have said they will require vaccinations for office workers.
The delta strain of the virus has already prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend mask-wearing again in certain situations. It’s unclear, meanwhile, how much damage the variant could cause to the U.S. economy. On Thursday, the government reported that the size of the economy now exceeds pre-pandemic levels after last year’s recession.
Read: U.S. economy tops pre-COVID level with GDP surging at 6.5% pace in the spring.