President Joe Biden, citing the need to overcome the "frustrating" number of unvaccinated Americans, announced a new vaccine and testing mandate Thursday for all large employers in the United States.
"We need to do more. This is not about freedom or personal choice. It's about protecting yourself and those around you," Biden said during an afternoon news conference, adding his job as president is "to protect all Americans."
The new rule will apply to all employers with 100 or more employees. Those employers will have to ensure all their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or are getting tested weekly to prove they're negative. Failing to do so could result in a fine of $14,000 for each violation.
This new rule could impact as many as 100 million workers in the U.S., Biden said, and employers will be required to give those people paid time off to get it done.
The president, more than once, acknowledged mounting frustration with the one-quarter of eligible Americans who still have not gotten even one shot.
"This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it's caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program ... we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot," he said, later calling it "totally unacceptable."
The president said unvaccinated individuals are "blocking public health," saying a "distinct minority" of Americans supported by a "distinct minority of lawmakers" are "keeping us from turning the corner" and overcoming COVID-19.
"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin," Biden said, directly addressing the unvaccinated. "And your refusal has cost all of us."
Biden's new employer policies won't go into effect immediately, NPR reports. The Department of Labor will need to write and issue the rule, which is expected in the next few weeks.
Some additional new rules will also mandate that health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement require staff to be vaccinated; and institutes a new vaccine mandate, with no testing alternative exception, for federal executive branch employees and contractors, according to NBC News.
Biden also addressed booster shots, saying the decision on when to provide them, to whom, and which vaccine will be used, will be left up to scientists.
Among additional steps Biden detailed, he said TSA will be doubling the fines for travelers who refuse to wear a face covering on public transportation.
The new mandates are aimed at slowing the continued spread of COVID-19 and its more-transmissible delta variant. Despite the widespread availability of free COVID-19 vaccines, infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb.
There were nearly three times as many people hospitalized with COVID in the U.S. over Labor Day weekend then at the same time last year — when vaccines weren't yet available. Hospitals across the country, such as in Idaho, are facing difficult decisions as COVID patients fill up ICU space.
This "leaves no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer," Biden said.
The start of the school years adds new urgency, with a patchwork of COVID policies in schools and districts across the country. In Albert Lea, there have been 66 confirmed COVID cases in the first two weeks of school. In South Carolina, two students from the same district — a 9-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl — died from COVID-19 on Sept. 1.
The president called on governors of all 50 states to require school teachers and staff be vaccinated.
"Vaccination requirements at public schools are nothing new. They work," he said.