Coronavirus: Federal vaccine mandate for businesses, health care workers to take effect Jan. 4

Companies with 100 or more employees will be required to have their workforces fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing by Jan. 4, with businesses that fail to comply facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines, according to senior Biden administration officials and guidance released Thursday by regulators.

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Federal contractors and health care workers at facilities which get federal funding will also be required to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, White House officials said.

The requirements finalize plans that President Joe Biden announced in September aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and convincing vaccine skeptics to get their shots. They apply to more than 100 million workers nationwide.

“Vaccination requirements are good for the economy,” Biden said Thursday. “They not only increase vaccination rates but they help send people back to work – as many as 5 million American workers. They make our economy more resilient in the face of COVID and keep our businesses open.”

>> Related: ‘We’re in a tough stretch’: Biden announces new COVID-19 mandates for millions of Americans

Under an emergency temporary standard issued Thursday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers with 100 or more workers will also be required to provide paid time off to allow employees to get vaccinated and to ensure that unvaccinated employees wear masks while in the workplace by Dec. 5.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said Thursday. “We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

>> Read the full guidance released by OSHA

Several businesses have already announced vaccination requirements for employees, including Ford Motor Co., Microsoft and several airlines.

“As we’ve seen with businesses – large and small – across all sectors of our economy, the overwhelming majority of Americans choose to get vaccinated,” Biden said Thursday, adding that fears of mass firings or high numbers of workers leaving their jobs due to vaccine mandates have not materialized.

“Vaccination requirements are nothing new. We’ve been living with them throughout our lives for all sorts of diseases. Safety rules in the workplace are nothing new either. We require hard hats in construction sites and safety goggles in labs. And with today’s actions, we now have requirements to protect people from something that has taken the lives of 750,000 Americans.”

>> Related: Biden admin to require COVID-19 vaccinations for nursing home staff

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also detailed its requirement that the 17 million workers at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare or Medicaid programs be fully vaccinated. The mandate applies to employees, students, trainees and volunteers in clinical and non-clinical positions.

Officials with the Biden administration first announced plans to require health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in August.

>> Related: Biden sets vaccination requirement for federal workers

The newly detailed rules will preempt state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing, according to the White House. They are the latest federal vaccine requirements to come as officials work to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Previously, officials mandated that federal employees get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.

As of Wednesday, about 67% of the total U.S. population, or 222.2 million people, have gotten at least one dose of any of the COVID-19 vaccines available nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over 58% of the population, or 192.9 million people, have been fully vaccinated.

>> Related: Coronavirus: US COVID-19 death toll surpasses 750,000

Since the start of the pandemic, officials have reported 46.2 million COVID-19 cases across the U.S., resulting in over 750,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University. Globally, 248.2 million COVID-19 cases have been reported, resulting in over 5 million deaths, according to the university.

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