By Jason Hanna and Madeline Holcombe, CNN
Unvaccinated American workers are facing increasing pressure to get Covid-19 shots, as the country sees a dramatic rise in the number of government and private sector employers pushing inoculations for those who want to come to work.
The moves, which picked up pace this week, came as the highly contagious Delta variant helped send daily Covid-19 case rates higher and spurred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new masking guidance.
Employers’ emerging vaccine policies take many forms, including those requiring shots for being on-site, and those that provide alternatives such as strict testing and masking rules.
President Joe Biden announced that all federal employees must attest to being vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict protocols including regular testing, masking and other mitigation measures. These requirements will apply to military and civilian Defense Department personnel, and the department is also considering adding Covid-19 vaccines to the list of required vaccines for military personnel, the Pentagon said.
“With freedom comes responsibility,” Biden said. “So, please, exercise responsible judgment. Get vaccinated — for yourself, for the people you love, for your country.”
Biden called on states and local governments to give each newly fully-vaccinated person $100 as an incentive to get more people inoculated.
“If incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them,” the President said. “We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.”
Governors in New Mexico and Minnesota said later Thursday they would implement such a program.
Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner, said she is for such requirements, in part because they could boost vaccination levels to a point where virus rates can be tamped down.
“I think the federal government is signaling now: ‘Hey, vaccine mandates are a good idea.’ … It gives cover to these businesses that have long wanted to do this,” Wen said Thursday.
Corporate America is increasingly jumping on board.
On Wednesday, Google and Facebook became the first two Silicon Valley giants to require employees to be vaccinated when they return to company campuses.
BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is currently allowing only vaccinated employees to return to the office, and will issue an updated policy for unvaccinated employees later in the summer, a spokesperson for the company said. Rideshare company Lyft is requiring everyone working in its offices to be vaccinated by August.
Some are tying vaccinations to employment outright. A major New York City restaurant group will make vaccinations “a condition of the job” by September 7, its leader told CNN on Thursday.
“Why in the world would we just stand by and not take action right now?” Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, told CNN. “None of us wants to turn back and experience” any more consequences of rising cases, like the banning of indoor dining, he said.
These moves come after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in May that employers could require vaccination of employees if they allow religious and medical exemptions.
Earlier this month, Justice Department lawyers determined that federal law doesn’t prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring Covid-19 vaccines — even if the vaccines have only emergency use authorization.
The Biden administration is not considering a nationwide Covid-19 vaccine requirement, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday.
“That’s not an authority that we’re exploring at all,” Zients told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
As the Delta variant has increased its grip in the US, coronavirus case rates have jumped.
The US averaged more than 63,600 new daily cases over the last week — an average that’s generally risen since the country hit a 2021 low of 11,299 daily on June 22, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
As of Thursday, cases rose in all but one state in the past seven days compared to the week before, and cases rose at least 50% in 36 states during that time, according to Johns Hopkins.
Closures in some places lie ahead, former surgeon general predicts
Former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN on Thursday that it might be too late to prevent closures to some activities due to the spread of the Delta variant and the high percentage of Americans who are unvaccinated.
“I’m predicting closures in the future, because we are not going to be able to rein this variant back in,” Adams told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
He said some areas might have to look at mitigation measures like closures to ease the burden on hospitals.
“At this point, if you look at the trajectory of the Delta variant in India and in the UK, and you look at how we’re busting the curve compared to where they were — not in a good way — I do expect that you’re going to see closures in certain places, because healthcare systems are already starting to be overwhelmed,” he said.
Tools like vaccination, testing and treatment will help shorten closures, Adams said.
‘We’ve hit a wall’ on vaccinations, expert says
The culprit is an insufficient rate of vaccinations, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee.
“We’ve hit a wall,” Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. “We’ve gotten to the point where you have to compel people to do the right thing.”
The rate of people getting their first Covid-19 vaccine shot has risen in recent days. An average of 382,106 people initiated vaccination each day over the last week — a 35% increase over last week’s pace, and the highest average in the three weeks, CDC data shows.
Still, only 49.4% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
“There was a time we were giving 3 million doses a day. If we’d stayed that course, we could be at roughly 80% population immunity,” Offit said.
The climbing case numbers have pushed some areas to return to mask requirements:
• The mayor of Atlanta issued an executive order requiring masks in all indoor public places.
• In Kansas, state employees and visitors will be required to wear masks indoors starting Monday.
• The Pentagon implemented an indoor mask requirement regardless of vaccination status.
• Boston Mayor Kim Janey said Thursday that the city is “leaning toward” a vaccine mandate for city employees.
But other leaders are pushing back against the return to pre-vaccine precautions.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order keeping governments and school districts in the state from requiring masks.
Texans “have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities,” he said.
Health experts have said the changes in recommendations, like those made to mask guidance, are the result of under vaccination and the Delta variant changing the landscape of the pandemic.
Los Angeles to test students and staff each week
The Los Angeles Unified School District said Thursday that students and employees going to schools will be tested once a week, regardless of vaccination status.
Legal guardians of students will be required to schedule test appointments. Results will be emailed and shared with appropriate scientists, administrators and health authorities, officials said.
Los Angeles has the second-largest school district in the country with more than 600,000 students. It will also require people at school to wear masks while indoors.
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CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Alexis Benveniste, Clare Duffy, Kevin Liptak, Kay Jones, Kelsie Smith, Alexandra Meeks, Dave Alsup, Raja Razek, Barbara Starr, Deidre McPhillips, Taylor Romine, Alison Kosik and Andy Rose contributed to this report.