Channeling frustration towards the unvaccinated, Biden announces slew of new requirements to combat the Delta variant

Joe biden
President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Associated Press/Evan Vucci
  • President Biden announced a new slate of measures to combat the Delta variant at the White House today.
  • ‘This is not about freedom or personal choice,’ Biden said. ‘It’s about protecting yourself and those around you.’
  • The plan includes a federal employee vaccine mandate, doubled TSA fines for not wearing masks, and more.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden announced a series of new initiatives to combat COVID-19, including a new stricter vaccination requirement for federal employees, in a Thursday speech at the White House. The speech comes as the White House released a plan to combat the rise of the Delta variant.

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated,” Biden said at the beginning of his speech. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

“And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19,” said Biden. “This is totally unacceptable.”

The plan includes six parts:

  • Vaccinating the unvaccinated, including new mandates for federal employees and an OSHA rule mandating large employers require vaccinations or weekly testing
  • Further protecting the vaccinated, including a booster program to be rolled out by September 20
  • Keeping schools safely open, including a new vaccine requirement for Head Start program teachers and staff
  • Increasing testing and requiring masking, including using the Defense Production Act to boost the availability of rapid and at-home test kits
  • Protecting the economic recovery, including strengthening the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program
  • Improving COVID-19 treatments, including a 50% boost in weekly shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments to states

“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”

“Get vaccinated,” Biden whispered into his microphone as he ended his speech.

The president signed an executive order mandating federal employees and contractors of federal agencies to get vaccinated without being able to opt out and get regular testing instead, which is more stringent than a requirement announced in June that allowed for weekly testing. The new mandate also comes after the US military required service members to get vaccinated.

As Biden laid out the planks of his plan, he took a shot at Americans who have refused to comply with pandemic-era rules. “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay. And by the way, show some respect!” Biden said as he announced a doubling of TSA fines for people refusing to wear masks.

Vaccine mandates for public-sector employees, like law enforcement and teachers, have been the subject of tension and political back-and-forth in states and localities around the United States as many local leaders have moved to require vaccination for public-facing essential and healthcare workers.

Biden also announced an emergency requirement, enforced by the Department of Labor’s OSHA, for private companies with more than 100 employees to require workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly and to mandate vaccinations at all health care systems that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.

Biden is also urging school districts to expand testing to all students and staff as the Delta variant throws an anxiety-riddled wrench in the start of the school year for millions of children, parents, and educators around the country. Throughout the spring and summer, local school districts have also been the sites of fierce debates over mask and vaccination requirements.

The Department of Education recently announced it was opening civil rights investigations into five Republican-controlled states whose governors have moved to ban local school districts from imposing mask mandates in school.

Vaccines work against the Delta variant

The Biden administration is facing increased pressure to tackle the ultra-contagious Delta variant, which has especially devastated regions of the country with low vaccination rates and stymied the administration’s efforts to turn the corner on the virus.

Delta now accounts for more than 90% of cases in the US, according to the CDC. The country is currently seeing over 150,000 daily COVID-19 cases, 100,000 hospitalizations, and around 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to The Times’ database.

The only way out of the current surge is vaccination, Biden’s top COVID-19 advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told Axios. He said the infection rate in the US is 10 times too high to end the pandemic, and that rate will continue to soar until more people get vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccines are still doing what they are designed to do: prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death due to the coronavirus, even in the face of Delta.

Although there is some research to suggest the Delta variant can partially evade vaccine-induced antibodies, that’s not enough to render the vaccines useless. The majority of vaccinated people – those who aren’t elderly or immunocompromised – retain a strong and complex immune response to avoid getting seriously ill.

Vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 typically experience cold-like symptoms that resolve relatively quickly, compared to the flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath that can last weeks in unvaccinated people. However, research suggests vaccinated folks may transmit the virus, so the CDC says everyone still needs to mask up indoors.

Biden blames the Delta variant for the poor jobs report

The US economy only grew by 235,000 jobs in August, a highly disappointing miss largely attributable to the Delta variant surge slowing down hiring in many sectors of the economy.

“There’s no question the Delta variant is why today’s jobs report isn’t stronger. I know people were looking, and I was hoping, for a higher number,” Biden said in September 3 remarks at the White House about the August jobs slowdown.