U.S. President Joe Biden yesterday outlined an updated COVID-19 plan with the primary goal of increasing vaccination rates. The six-part blueprint, dubbed “The Path Out of the Pandemic,” outlines new initiatives aimed at boosting vaccinations, access to testing, insulating the economy, keeping schools open, expanding mask requirements, and improving care for COVID-19 patients.
Central to the six-point plan will be a new rule requiring companies with 100 employees or more to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly, which will impact roughly 80 million Americans. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will enforce the vaccination rule by issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which can be used when workers are “determined to be in grave danger due to exposure to toxic substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful.”
Companies who fail to comply with the proposed OSHA ETS rule will be forced to pay a stiff fine of $14,000 per violation. The ETS rule would also require employers to offer their employees paid time off to go and get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Biden also announced that not only must all federal workers be fully vaccinated but also the employees of all federal contractors. Federal employees who don’t meet the November 1 deadline will be fired. However, the Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. Postal Services’ 644,000 employees are exempt from the federal worker mandate and will instead be governed by the OSHA rule and, as such, would be allowed to keep their jobs if they have weekly tests.
“We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” Biden said.
Healthcare workers at medical facilities receiving funding through Medicare or Medicaid must also require their employees to be vaccinated, according to the new plan.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, called the mandate for federal workers “ill-conceived,” saying, “Vaccination should be promoted through education and encouragement, not coercion.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., issued the following statement in regards to the new OSHA vaccine rule: “My family and I chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and I am grateful for it. Every Oklahoman and American should have that same choice and option. Federal employees and contractors, members of our military, health care workers, and everyone else in our nation should be able to choose whether to get vaccinated, period. The Biden proposal ignores the natural immunity of millions of Americans have because they have recovered from COVID and the millions of other Americans that do not want to be forced to take a vaccine for a multitude of personal, religious, and medical reasons.”
Additionally, the new guidance calls for vaccination requirements for all teachers and staff in certain school settings, including federal Head Start programs, youth program personnel at the Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Indian-Education Operated Schools, as well as students who are eligible to be vaccinated; the guidance also urges all other faculty, staff, and students in school districts across the country to get vaccinated.
The plan will also bolster the supplies of COVID-19 testing kits, including increasing the supply and reducing the cost of over-the-counter home-based testing kits (although those tests have been shown at times to be inaccurate).
Biden added that he was “urging” sports and entertainment venues to require guests to either show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or provide negative test results.
Finally, the Biden administration’s plan, through the Department of Education, will attempt to restore pay to school officials who have not complied with state orders, such as those banning mask mandates in states such as Florida and Texas.
It remains unclear how the Biden administration’s plan, particularly the proposed OSHA ETS rule, would hold up in court. While U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett recently declined to interfere with Indiana University’s vaccine mandate, coercing employers to require millions of employees across the country to take a vaccine or show a negative test, is a sweeping action much broader in its scope, and there are many questions.
Some employers, including Guy T. Williams, chief executive of Gulf Coast Bank & Trust, a regional bank located in Louisiana, stated, “I don’t think he has the constitutional authority. Does the president of the United States get to dictate vaccinations?”
A number of governors and state attorneys general are working to file challenges to the new mandates, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., who insisted, “This gross example of federal intrusion will not stand.”
Regardless of the outcome, it seems almost inevitable that the Biden administration will be defending their new vaccine guidance before the Supreme Court in the months and potentially years ahead.
Healthcare is a highly personal matter, and Americans should have the right to make their own personal healthcare choices. Yes, there is vaccine hesitancy — but if the federal government is looking for someone to blame, it should look square in the mirror. The heavy-handed tactics of the medical bureaucracy and the political decision to allow those tactics has only managed to destroy much of the trust Americans have in their leaders and institutions.
In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union warned government officials that forced quarantines, forced vaccines, and other “aggressive, coercive actions” in the face of a dangerous virus would “gratuitously breed public distrust and encourage the people who are most in need of care to evade public health authorities.”
Government leaders ignored this wise advice and took the opposite tact, not only forcing lockdowns, but also censoring medical information and doctors, utilizing threats and punishment, encouraging snitches, allowing bureaucrats to unilaterally change laws, and employing a host of other authoritarian measures, even while ignoring their own rules.
The result of such measures, the ACLU predicted, would be that, “People, rather than the disease, would become the enemy.”
Yesterday, the president not only took unprecedented steps to seize even more power but angrily laid the blame for the pandemic — and any current and future economic problems — on the unvaccinated, a heterogenous group who includes not just those who may have voted for Trump, but also members of the military, healthcare workers, police officers, PhDs, the homeless, illegal immigrants, and minorities.
We are at a dangerous precipice in our country. Will fear win out over freedom? Will safety trump liberty? Can a house increasingly divided against itself stand? In our quest to stop the spread of COVID, will we allow the virus to kill the Constitution? The courts must weigh in and look at this issue from their role not just as judges but also as free Americans.
And they should consider the sage words of a highly prescient ACLU from just 13 years ago: “The law enforcement approach to public health offers a rationale for the endless suspension of civil liberties…. the war on disease will continue until the end of the human race. There will always be a new disease, always the threat of a new pandemic. If that fear justifies the suspension of liberties and the institution of an emergency state, then freedom and the rule of law will be permanently suspended.”