WASHINGTON (Associated Press) – Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden is anxiously pushing forward urging people to get COVID-19 shots after the Supreme Court halted the administration’s blanket plan for vaccination or testing for large employers.
At a time when hospitals are overrun and record numbers of people are infected with the omicron variant, the administration hopes states and companies will require their own vaccination or testing requirements. And if the “presidential tribune” is still important for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.
While some in the business community welcomed the mandate’s defeat, Biden insisted that the administration’s efforts were not in vain. He said Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling “does not prevent me from using my voice as president to call for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy.”
The conservative majority in the court overturned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly. However, it has left in place 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 begin accepting applications next Wednesday. These tests could provide an incentive for some people to seek vaccination, and the administration is looking to address the nationwide shortage. Supplies will be limited to just four free tests per home.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) appeared to have overstepped its congressional authority to enforce occupational standards, saying: “Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard.” for the most part.”
The mandate was announced last September, accompanied by scathing criticism from Biden of the nearly 80 million American adults who have not yet been shot.
“We have been patient. But our patience is running out and your rejection cost us all.” The unvaccinated minority “can do a lot of harm, and they are,” he said.
In a statement after the Supreme Court ruling, Biden expressed disappointment with the result but said the mandates had already had the desired effect of reducing the number of unvaccinated adults.
“Today, that number is down to less than 35 million,” he said of the unvaccinated. “Had my administration not put vaccination requirements in place, we would now be seeing a spike in deaths from COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations.”
While the court left the door open for the United States to pursue more targeted mandates, White House officials said there were no immediate plans to seek reorganization.
“It is now up to states and employers to establish vaccination requirements,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
Lawrence Justin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, said the United States is already “weakening”, with a vaccination rate of 60%, near the bottom of peer nations.
“The OSHA rule was really the president’s last best shot at dramatically increasing the vaccination rate,” Justin said. But the Court, “in a very partisan manner, I deliberately tried to tie the hands of the President in doing what he needed to do.”
Several large companies that have already established vaccination or testing requirements have indicated that they have no plans to reverse course. But small businesses said they were breathing a sigh of relief for fear of a worker shortage if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule was allowed to go into effect.
Kyle Caraway, marketing director for Doolittle Trailer Manufacturing, which has joined a lawsuit brought by the Missouri attorney general to challenge Biden’s policy, said the Supreme Court’s decision “carried a little bit of anxiety on our shoulders.” He said about 90% of 175 employees at Holts Summit, based in Missouri, have indicated they would refuse to comply with vaccination requirements.
“It has become clear to us that our team will be significantly reduced overnight if this vaccine mandate begins,” said Caraway, who considered himself among the opponents of Biden’s policy. He said stopping production could force the company to “consider closing our doors”.
Service Employees International, which represents more than two million workers, said the court’s decision was a relief for health care workers, but leaves others without critical protection.
“In blocking the vaccine or testing rule for large employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at greater risk, succumbing to companies trying to permanently manipulate the rules against workers,” the union said.
The union called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. The union said workers also need better access to testing and protection equipment.
The renewed controversy over vaccination mandates comes as a record number of Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, the nation averages 800,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths per day, and resistance to vaccines remains a problem, most notably in deeply conservative states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho where less than half of the population is fully vaccinated.
Hospitals across the country are chronically understaffed and bombarded with people arriving in emergency rooms in need of virus tests. National Guard forces have been activated in dozens of states to assist in medical centers, nursing homes and testing sites.
A hospital on the edge of a Kansas City-area had to borrow ventilators from Missouri’s stockpile and search for more high-flow oxygen machines, and Kansas’ largest county said Friday that morgue space is running out — again.
Justin expected the court’s work to have a serious impact on the efforts of other federal agencies to protect public health, by ruling that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could not regulate something that would have a huge economic impact without express authorization from Congress. He said states would not be able to offset the ruling’s impact.
“If COVID has taught us anything, we have learned that states cannot deal with big, daring problems, and they cannot prevent a pathogen from moving from Florida to New York,” he said. These are national problems that require federal solutions. ”
Psaki said the White House will work with companies to advance the benefits of vaccination or test requirements and that Biden will highlight successful programs.
“The court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to request this action,” Biden said. So, “I invite business leaders to immediately join those who have already applied – including a third of Fortune 100 companies – and put in place vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers and communities.”
David A. Lieb of Jefferson City, Missouri, and Lindsay Tanner of Chicago contributed.