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White House vaccine and testing mandate doesn’t start until after the holidays

New rules for large companies and healthcare facilities take effect January 4th

US-HEALTH-VIRUS-VACCINE Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Thursday announced a rule that requires private businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 on at least a weekly basis. This new push to bump vaccination rates comes after the White House set a rule requiring federal contractors to establish plans ensuring their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The new rule (PDF) was drafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a government subagency under the US Department of Labor that covers about 84 million private-sector employers and workers. It requires that employers provide paid time for employees to go get vaccinated and ensure all unvaccinated workers wear a face mask at work.

A second policy announced today by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services adds a requirement for full vaccination of health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid, affecting some 17 million workers at more than 76,000 facilities.

There’s one deadline set for the federal contractor, OSHA, and CMS policies when it comes to vaccination: January 4th, 2022. Other requirements for employers, like providing paid time off for vaccination and masking for unvaccinated employees, take effect starting December 5th.

Many private businesses — including Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), and hospitals across the country — have already required their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the new rule. Some laid off small numbers of employees who refused the rules, creating additional issues for those struggling with supposed labor shortages. An FAQ for the Emergency Temporary Standard announced today notes it is a “minimum requirement” and says, “Nothing in this section prevents employers from agreeing with their employees to implement additional measures, and this section does not displace collectively bargained agreements.”

The White House vaccine mandate for federal contractors has been met with criticism from state governments claiming that this rule is unconstitutional. Nineteen states have filed lawsuits against the federal government, the Associated Press reported in October.

The two joint and two individual lawsuits argue that the mandate violates the states’ Tenth Amendment rights and forces states to comply with federal law without intermission. According to the administration, “both OSHA and CMS are making clear that their new rules preempt any inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing.”

Over 70 percent of adults in the United States have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but the US has the lowest vaccination rate among wealthy democracies.