New front in mandate wars; debt bill heads to Biden

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver 

The White House, reacting on Tuesday to actions in Texas and Florida to block vaccine mandates affecting workers in those states, accused Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida of using the coronavirus as campaign fodder by spurning a tool that can save lives (The Hill).

“Gov. Abbott’s executive order banning vaccine mandates — and I would also note the announcement by Gov. DeSantis this morning essentially banning the implementation of mandates — fit a familiar pattern that we’ve seen of putting politics ahead of public health,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki (seen below) told reporters.

Abbott opened a new front in the vaccine mandate wars on Monday night with an executive order banning such requirements by any “entity in Texas,” including private businesses. Abbott said the Biden administration is “bullying” businesses with a pending federal rule to require employers with more than 100 workers to compel employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with some wiggle room for a testing alternative (The Hill).

“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said in a statement. Earlier this year, Abbott barred entities receiving government funding from requiring workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus (Austin American-Statesman).

The Texas order reflects growing hostility by the GOP to vaccine requirements (The Associated Press, The Washington Post).

Opposition to employer vaccine mandates was anticipated by the White House. It has been more than a month since President Biden delivered a forceful speech blaming the unvaccinated for needlessly prolonging a U.S. public health crisis. He said the Department of Labor would regulate worker safety with a rule requiring large companies to compel employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. The rule has not yet been published, and the administration has nudged states and large companies nationwide to act on their own in the interim. The administration expects a federal mandate covering private sector employees to be challenged in the courts.

In the meantime, public entities, such as state school systems, the U.S. military, public hospitals and police departments, have discovered that deadlines by which employees must fulfill mandated COVID-19 inoculations are a challenge. The Los Angeles school system on Tuesday extended its deadline for employees (Los Angeles Times). U.S. military branches have staggered their deadlines, some into June, and find the strongest resistance to vaccination crops up among reserves and the National Guard, both considered essential to readiness (The Washington Post).

Hospitals and nursing facilities, already coping with worker shortages, worry that nurses and health care aides will strike or quit rather than get vaccinated, even in states such as Oregon and California, where voluntary vaccination rates in the general population are high (Newsweek and Los Angeles Times). The Northern District Court of New York on Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction for all health care workers, granting a request to stop the state from enforcing the policy for those who claim a religion-based objection to the state’s vaccine mandate (ABC7NY).

NPR: Judging “sincerely held” religious beliefs as exemptions for vaccine mandates is tricky for employers.The Hill: More than 100,000 workers threaten strikes as unions flex muscles.

Surveys of workers reveal threats to quit, but research suggests unvaccinated employees often do not follow through, reports NPR. Those officials and corporate leaders who support vaccine mandates have looked at research that indicates the results go the other way: Employees want to keep their jobs and opt to fulfill corporate requirements.

Fierce Healthcare is working to anecdotally tally resignations by employees in health care settings specifically prompted by objections to vaccination requirements rather than a menu of other complaints, such as low wages, workplace stress, too little time off and staff shortages.

KPTV: One Missouri hospital CEO worries that he will lose more staff members because of COVID-19 vaccine requirements. He says staff turnover is already tough and he believes mandates don’t work as intended.

Detroit Free Press: Four hundred workers walked off the job at Henry Ford Health System rather than take a required COVID-19 vaccine, the hospital system said on Tuesday.

Newsweek: More than 100 employees quit their jobs at a major Indiana hospital system, administrators said last week.

The Hill: On the flip side of resistance to vaccines, thousands of Americans outside the country say they are clamoring to get access to approved COVID-19 shots. Americans living and working abroad continue to seek U.S. government and congressional help to obtain vaccine doses authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

CBS SF: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week announced the launch of a pilot testing program at the San Francisco International Airport to identify new coronavirus variants coming into or circulating in the country.

For the fully vaccinated, the United States today will announce it is reopening land borders to Mexico and Canada to nonessential, legal travelers beginning next month, ending a 19-month freeze policy adopted during the pandemic (The Associated Press).

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