Federal Workers Must Either Be Vaccinated or Wear Masks and Get Tested Weekly

Kimberly Redmond  |

Video source: YouTube, NBC News

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that federal workers and government contractors must now provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccination status or adhere to a series of strict safety protocols, including regular testing and mask mandates.

Under the new measures, those who do not show that they are fully vaccinated will need to wear masks, practice social distancing and submit to coronavirus tests one to two times a week. They will also be barred from traveling for official purposes.

The federal government employs about 4 million people around the US, including 2 million in the federal civilian workforce. The total number is closer to 10 million when grant workers and contractors are included, NBC News noted. 

It is unclear what percentage of these workers are vaccinated, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a briefing later in the day.

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Biden urged state and local governments, as well as the private sector, to follow a similar vaccination requirement for their workplace, adding that the US Justice Department has "made it clear" that it is legal to do so.

In recent days, a growing number of businesses, including Google and Facebook, have enacted vaccine mandates for employees returning to in-person work.

California, New York state and the US Department of Veteran Affairs have also announced plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for most of their employees.

The US Department of Defense has also been directed by the White House to look into adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of those required for military members.

Thursday’s announcement comes as the White House prepares for a surge in cases across the US. In recent weeks, vaccination rates have flattened out, even as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads nationwide.

Just two days earlier, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that all Americans, vaccinated or not, wear masks indoors, especially in areas with high transmission rates. 

On Thursday, Biden also detailed several other steps aimed at persuading unvaccinated people to get the shot — including calling on state and local governments to use coronavirus relief funds to distribute $100 cash incentives to those who get the vaccine. 

The President also announced that a reimbursement program, which pays back small- and medium-sized businesses that offered paid leave for employees to get vaccinated, will be expanded to include family members of workers.

Additionally, he encouraged school districts to host pop-up vaccine clinics to help reach younger people ahead of the new school year.

“This is an American tragedy. People are dying and will die, who don’t have to die,” said Biden.

He called the current health crisis "a pandemic of the unvaccinated,'' pointing out that while those who are vaccinated are almost entirely protected against severe disease and death, 90 million eligible Americans have still not gotten the shots.

“This is not about red states and blue states. It’s literally about life and death,” he said. “With freedom comes responsibility. Your decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else.”

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