By Lucia Leal
Washington, Jul 29 (EFE).- President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the federal government’s more than 2 million civilian employees will be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine or submit to regular testing as the United States experiences a surge in new infections blamed on the more infectious Delta variant of the virus.
The president also instructed the Pentagon to report back on when the Covid-19 shot can be added to the list of vaccines that are obligatory for the 2 million members of the US Armed Forces.
Every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to “attest to their vaccination status,” Biden said in a speech at the White House.
Those who do not show proof of being vaccinated will have to wear a mask on the job and undergo testing on a weekly or even twice-a-week basis, he said.
“Every day, more businesses are implementing their own vaccine mandates,” Biden said. “The Justice Department has made it clear that it is legal to require Covid-19 vaccines. We all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated workplaces will make that happen more quickly and more successfully.”
The president also pointed to the effectiveness of incentives, such as the $100 payments New York City is offering to anyone who gets the initial dose of a vaccine from a municipal-run site, and urged state and local governments across the US to follow the Big Apple’s example.
“I know that paying people who get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who got vaccinated already,” he said. “But here’s the deal. If incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them. We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.”
In a fact sheet released ahead of Biden’s speech, the White House said that states and municipalities could use funds from the American Rescue Act to fund vaccine incentives.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that in the parts of the US where Covid-19 infections are surging, vaccinated people should wear masks in closed public spaces.
Some cities and states had already reinstated mask requirements before the CDC reversed its previous guidance that fully vaccinated people could dispense with masks in most situations.
Under the federal system, public health is generally a matter for states and localities in the US and conventional wisdom holds that Washington does not have the authority to impose a national mandate for masks or vaccines.
But in response to a question from a reporter on Thursday, Biden suggested that whether the federal government can impose a national vaccination requirement remained to be determined.
“Local communities can do that, local businesses can do that,” he said. “It’s still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don’t know that.”
Roughly 70 percent of US adults have had at least one dose of vaccine, though only 49 percent are fully vaccinated.
“People are dying and will die who don’t have to die. If you’re out there unvaccinated, you don’t have to die,” Biden said.
The US leads the world in coronavirus deaths – 612,000 – and confirmed cases, which stand at 34.8 million. EFE llb/dr