WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will require federal employees to wear masks, physically distance from others in the workplace and get tested regularly if they’re not willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The new rules place the federal government, the country’s largest employer, at the forefront of efforts to boost vaccination rates by applying pressure at offices and other job sites. Some private companies and local governments have already announced similar policies.
And they reflect a frustration with dragging vaccination rates and fears over the more contagious delta variant, which has increased caseloads.
“We have the tools to prevent this new wave of COVID,” Biden said Thursday, where he announced the new rules, as well as new incentives, from the East Room of the White House.
“You want to know how we put this virus behind us? I’ll tell you how. We need to get more people vaccinated.”
More than 2 million civilian federal workers who live around the country will be affected by the mandate. The rules will also apply to contractors employed at federal sites. The White House is working on applying the same standard to all federal contractors.
Such a requirement could land heavily in California, which has the most federal workers outside of the Washington, D.C., area, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
More than 1.4 million uniformed military personnel will not yet be affected, but Biden is directing the Pentagon to detail when it will add the coronavirus shots to the list of required vaccinations for members of the armed forces.
Biden’s announcement included other steps intended to increase vaccinations. Washington will reimburse small- and medium-sized businesses that grant paid leave to employees who are helping get their children or other family members vaccinated. Biden is also asking schools to host clinics to help get students vaccinated. The shots are currently approved for children as young as 12.
Shortly before Biden’s scheduled announcement, the Treasury Department said state and local governments could use American Rescue Plan funds to pay $100 to newly vaccinated people as further incentive for people to get their shots.