A new variant of the Coronavirus is making it's way around the globe and President Biden has a new plan to combat it. It starts with additional protections for businesses.
On Thursday, the White House announced a plan to help America get better protected against the Delta and Omicron variants, keep businesses open, and quickly respond to surges if needed during colder months. The plan includes helping people get booster shots, expanding free at-home testing, and additional protections in the workplace.
The announcement underscores the recent spread of the Omicron variant, which the World Health Organization last week labeled as a variant "of concern," which is the same designation as Delta. According to the agency, early evidence suggests Omicron might put people at a higher risk of getting the virus compared with other variants.
So here's the plan:
Widen access to boosters.
Biden plans to get nearly 100 million eligible Americans booster shots as soon as possible by increasing access across the U.S. To aid this effort, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance on November 19 noting that every adult, who received an mRNA vaccine at least six months ago and those receiving a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago are eligible for a booster.
Require employers provide paid time off for getting a jab.
Currently all federal employees receive paid time off to get booster shots. Biden wants to also extend his earlier call for employers throughout the country to provide paid time off for their employees to get boosters. Currently, employers only need to do so through December 5, 2021. That extension would apply to employees whose family members are getting vaccinations and/or boosters. According to the Biden administration, about one-third of workers report not receiving paid time off for vaccinations, and thirty-five percent of parents report being concerned about having to take time off work to get their child vaccinated or care for them if they experience side effects. Note that the federal program offering to reimburse employers for providing paid time off to employees seeking vaccinations, the Coronavirus Federal Relief Act, ran out in December 30, 2020.
Make at-home testing free.
As part of Biden's vaccine mandate, businesses with at least 100 employees must ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022, or require that employees submit to weekly Covid testing. To help employers manage this testing requirement, Biden wants to ensure that more at-home testing is available. Those with private insurance will now be able to get tests reimbursed. The at-home tests will be distributed through key community sites, such as health centers and rural clinics. The wider availability of tests should ease some of the cost pressures on employers and employees if the employer declines to pick up the tab. At-home Covid test kits cost around $25 for a box for a set of two tests.
Encourage vaccinations at smaller businesses.
The President is encouraging businesses with fewer than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations. He's calling the mandate a protective measure to stave off business closures as the winter approaches. The Biden administration says 60 percent of all businesses report they are moving forward with implementing a program to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested on a weekly basis. "No business should shut down this winter because of Covid-19," the announcement says.