One day after President Joe Biden announced the most-sweeping mandates of his presidency to tackle the growing COVID-19 crisis, business and health care leaders in his home state were supportive of the measures aimed to increase the number of vaccinated individuals nationwide.
The most significant of the measures is a mandate that all private employers of 100 or more require their employees get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Businesses that don’t comply with the new regulation could face fines up to $14,000 per violation, according to the Washington Post, which was briefed on the plan’s details Thursday.
The president also mandated that health care workers, federal contractors and most federal workers be vaccinated. Those executive branch employees who refuse the mandate after a 75-day compliance period could be terminated following a disciplinary process.
The aggressive policies, made via presidential executive orders and new federal rules, come at a time when COVID-19 deaths nationwide total about 1,500 a day and new cases total about 150,000. Meanwhile, Delaware has a 14-day average of about 373 new cases, but only a handful of deaths – the First State has seen nearly 77% of adults receive at least one dose of a vaccine.
COVID cases are rising most rapidly in states in the South and Midwest which have comparatively lower vaccination rates. In total, about 80 million Americans are eligible for a COVID vaccine but have not received one.
On Friday, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated ones. More than 658,000 Americans have died in the pandemic so far.
The Biden administration will enforce its vaccinate-or-test mandate for private employers through a new regulation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Labor agency tasked with regulating workplace safety. Earlier this year, OSHA outlined the legality of such mandates for employers in a public memo, but until now has not been called upon to enforce a vaccine rollout. The White House estimated that the temporary rule change would impact 80 million workers, although it was unclear how many of them are already vaccinated.
On Friday, Delaware’s two most influential business organizations – the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and Delaware Business Roundtable, which represents the state’s top chief executives – released a joint statement in support of the president’s actions.
“With safe and effective vaccines to fight COVID-19 now FDA-approved and widely available, Delaware’s employers are increasingly taking steps to encourage and often require employees and customers to get vaccinated. The Delaware Business Roundtable and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce applaud the actions taken by individual companies to create healthy work environments and protect employees, their families, customers and contractors from infection. In addition, we support the Biden administration’s announcement yesterday to intensify efforts to compel vaccinations and expand testing since those two elements are critical to defeating the pandemic,” they wrote. “We look forward to working in concert with Gov. Carney to expand vaccinations in Delaware’s business, government and education communities.”
Meanwhile, about 17 million health care workers employed by hospitals and other institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement will be required to get their staff vaccinated under Biden’s proposal. In Delaware, ChristianaCare, Nemours and Trinity Health have already taken that step, although Bayhealth, Beebe Healthcare and TidalHealth have allowed staff to be tested instead of vaccinated under a directive by Gov. John Carney. The Biden administration rule would no longer allow that as an option.
Representatives from Bayhealth and Beebe said Friday that their health systems were awaiting further details from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on how the mandate would be applied.
“Beebe firmly stands behind the science of the COVID vaccine, and its vital role in helping prevent serious illness and furthering our goal of ending the pandemic. We are proud of our team member vaccination rate. Beebe chose to offer an incentive program to our team members and Beebe has seen an increase in team member vaccinations,” added Dr. Bill Chasanov, chief population health officer at Beebe, in a statement.
However, Wayne Smith, president & CEO of Delaware Healthcare Association, which represents the state’s hospitals, was more declarative Friday.
“With the new federal requirement that Medicare and Medicaid participating facilities must require employee vaccination, a uniform national standard has been established. Delaware hospitals will of course adhere to this standard,” he said in a statement.
Cheryl Heiks, executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association, which represents the state’s long-term care facilities, heralded the mandate for most health care workers around the nation. She noted that nursing homes were among the first recipients of vaccines in Delaware and after they were administered to residents “the number of cases of COVID-19 in our buildings decreased dramatically – which is proof that these vaccines work.”
“We appreciate the Biden administration understanding that the issue of vaccine requirements is not just an issue for those in nursing homes, but in all health care settings and private employer environments as well,” she said, noting that long-term care residents often visit hospitals and other care facilities outside of the purview of the existing federal mandate.
Putting a blanket mandate into place will also curb the number of unvaccinated long-term care staff leaving jobs over workplace mandates, which has exacerbated staffing challenges for many facilities, Heiks said.