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WH Considers Mandate for Fed Workers   07/28 06:20

   The White House is strongly considering requiring federal employees to show 
proof they've been vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise submit to 
regular testing and wear a mask -- a potentially major shift in policy that 
reflects growing concerns about the spread of the more infectious delta variant.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House is strongly considering requiring federal 
employees to show proof they've been vaccinated against the coronavirus or 
otherwise submit to regular testing and wear a mask -- a potentially major 
shift in policy that reflects growing concerns about the spread of the more 
infectious delta variant.

   The possible vaccine mandate for federal employees -- regardless of the rate 
of transmission in their area -- is one option under consideration by the Biden 
administration, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on 
condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations that have yet to be made 
public. The White House is expected to announce its final decision after 
completing a policy review this week.

   According to an analysis from the federal Office of Management and Budget, 
in 2020 there were more than 4.2 million federal workers nationwide, including 
those in the military.

   President Joe Biden suggested Tuesday that expanding that mandate to the 
entire federal workforce was "under consideration," but offered no further 
details. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal 
agency to require vaccinations, for its health workers.

   The broader requirement under consideration would be the most significant 
shift by the Biden administration this week as the White House grapples with a 
surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide driven by the spread 
of the delta variant and breakthrough infections among vaccinated Americans.

   On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its 
masking guidelines and said that all Americans living in areas with substantial 
or high coronavirus transmission rates should wear masks indoors, regardless of 
their vaccination status.

   And just like that, masks were back at the White House.

   By Tuesday afternoon, when the latest CDC data found that Washington, D.C., 
is facing substantial rates of transmission, White House staff were asked to 
begin wearing masks indoors starting Wednesday. Press were asked to follow 
suit, and those staff and reporters remaining in the White House were already 
masking up.

   An aide for Vice President Kamala Harris passed out masks to the reporters 
covering her events earlier that day, asking them to put them on before walking 
in to her meeting with Native American leaders on voting rights.

   Masks will also be required again at the U.S. House.

   Citing the new CDC guidance, the Capitol's Attending Physician Brian P. 
Monahan issued a memo late Tuesday reinstating the mask requirement for all 
individuals, vaccinated and not, when entering the House chamber or other 
interior spaces in the complex when others are present. Fines that had been 
established under previous House rules can be imposed for offenders, though 
exceptions will be allowed when lawmakers are recognized to speak during 
proceedings.

   For the Senate, with far fewer members, the masks are being recommended but 
not required for the chamber and other indoor spaces.

   "All individuals should wear a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask," 
Monahan wrote in a similar letter obtained by The Associated Press.

   Biden dismissed concerns that the new masking guidance from the CDC could 
create confusion among Americans, saying those who remain unvaccinated are the 
ones who are "sowing enormous confusion."

   "The more we learn, the more we learn about this virus and the delta 
variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And there's only one 
thing we know for sure -- if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, 
we'd be in a very different world," he told reporters after speaking to 
intelligence community employees at the Office of the Director of National 
Intelligence on Tuesday.

   But the whiplash on masking and vaccinations -- just the day before, White 
House press secretary Jen Psaki had avoided questions over why the 
administration had yet to require vaccines for federal workers -- reflects the 
uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

   Various state and local governments, private companies, hospital 
administrators and universities across the nation have reverted to indoor mask 
mandates and instituted vaccine mandates in recent months, but just 60% of 
American adults have been completely vaccinated, and the latest wave of the 
coronavirus is hitting those communities with low vaccination rates 
particularly hard. The nation is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 
24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

   But the Biden administration had thus far avoided embracing a vaccine 
mandate for its own employees -- in part because officials are wary of further 
politicizing an already fraught issue by coming down too hard on the side of 
vaccine mandates.

   Psaki acknowledged Tuesday that administration officials are aware of the 
risk that Biden's support for vaccine mandates could harden opposition to 
vaccines among his detractors.

   "The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to 
every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have 
invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local, trusted 
voices," she said.

    

 
 
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