The Biden administration will effectively impose a vaccine mandate on nursing homes, requiring their staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, administration officials said.
President Joe Biden will make an announcement about the policy sometime Wednesday afternoon, CNN first reported. He will direct the Department of Health and Human Services to promulgate new regulations making employee vaccination a condition for nursing homes to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, officials said.
"As we see the spread of Delta and the threat of Covid cases, it is really especially important that we ensure that those caring for our most vulnerable are vaccinated," said Carole Johnson, a senior official on the White House's COVID-19 response team.
"We are on a wartime footing here. We are leaning in to making sure we are taking the steps that we can to ensure the health and safety of Americans and we will continue to do so," she added.
The move is part of a wider effort to push unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus amid a surge of COVID-19 cases during the summer. Over the weekend, five states broke records for the average number of daily new cases. Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University suggests Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida are suffering the most severe outbreaks, with each state recording more than 100 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as of the end of last week, the more contagious Delta variant of the virus accounts for more than 98% of positive cases. The CDC has linked spread of the Delta variant to parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
There are an estimated 1.3 million people employed by more than 15,000 nursing homes that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The CDC says only 60% of nursing home staff nationwide are vaccinated. Of the seven states in which fewer than half of nursing home staff are vaccinated, weekly cases were 7.9 times higher in the week ending Aug. 1 than they were in the week ending June 27. Over the same period of time, cases in states where more than 60% of staff were vaccinated were only three times higher, according to CNN.
"We have seen tremendous progress with low Covid rates within the nursing home population and I think we're seeing signs that it is starting to tip the other direction. We don't want to go backwards," said Jonathan Blum, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services principal deputy administrator.
Blum told CNN that CMS officials are "confident we have the legal authority" to issue the new regulations, citing laws that permit CMS to take action as it relates to the health and safety of nursing home residents.
The new regulations follow actions Biden took in July mandating that all federal workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing to keep their jobs.