President Joe Biden will reportedly announce new vaccine and mask mandates Thursday afternoon when he delivers a speech introducing his six-point plan to battle the COVID-19 Delta variant.
White House officials speaking to various news outlets say the president will announce additional federal vaccine mandates, call on the private sector to implement mandates as well, and increase coronavirus testing in schools.
In July, Biden mandated that federal workers get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing to keep their jobs. The Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Service, and National Institutes of Health have each mandated vaccinations, affecting an estimated 2.5 million workers.
But according to NBC News, the president will announce today that the testing option will no longer be available: Federal workers and contractors with the government must get vaccinated or lose their jobs.
Previewing the president's address, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told MSNBC on Thursday that the president will encourage employers and local governments to adopt similar requirements.
"He's going to build on our mandates requirements, making it so that workers in the federal government or others have to get vaccinated, we've seen that work," Psaki said.
"We can't declare with a magic wand from the federal government that every person has to be vaccinated. School districts can do that, leaders and states can push their school districts to do that. That's important, companies can do that and make those requirements for their employees," she added. "That's something some larger companies have done, and that's a model. So those are all pieces the president will talk about today."
The president will also announce an increased effort to implement free COVID-19 testing in schools. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular testing as a "safe, effective way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help keep schools open for in-person learning."
Biden is also expected to comment on COVID-19 booster shots, but CNN reports he will not make any new announcements on when additional vaccine doses will be authorized for Americans.
The six points of Biden's plan include: vaccinating the unvaccinated; further protecting the vaccinated through booster shots; keeping schools open; increasing testing and requiring masks; protecting the economic recovery; and improving care for those with COVID-19.
At the beginning of summer, Biden told the American people that the advent of COVID-19 vaccines would allow "a summer of freedom" to begin on July 4, as pre-pandemic life was hoped to return as more Americans became vaccinated against COVID-19. But the increased contagiousness of the Delta variant, as well as the inefficacy of vaccines to prevent transmission of it, led to a summertime surge of coronavirus cases that caused public health officials to backpedal expectations, claiming that too few Americans were vaccinated for a return to the pre-pandemic normal.
The CDC re-issued guidance that even vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in areas with high levels of COVID-19 transmission. School reopening for in-person learning became highly controversial as public health officials wanted universal mask requirements and were met with resistance from parents and Republican governors who required that mask mandates include an opt-out for parents who don't want their kids to be forced to wear face coverings all day long.
The new six-point plan is an effort by the Biden administration to regroup after the initial push for vaccinations failed to "shut down the virus," as he promised on the campaign trail in 2020.