US introduces strict COVID rules for unvaccinanted federal workers

By Melissa Coade

Monday August 2, 2021

US federal workers will be subject to regular testing for COVID-19 or expected to get vaccinated
US federal workers will be subject to regular testing for COVID-19 or expected to get vaccinated. (Sundry Photography/Adobe)

Federal workers in the US will be subject to regular testing for COVID-19 or expected to get vaccinated following a formal announcement from Joe Biden last week.

According to the New York Times, President Biden said the measures are part of the ‘next steps’ to get more Americans vaccinated. The added rules come amid growing concerns about the impact of the highly contagious Delta variant and as private employers in the US call time for mandating the vaccine.

Under the new rules all federal civilian employees must either get vaccinated against the virus or participate in regular testing, be restricted from most travel, and adhere to mask wearing requirements. 

Only those federal employees who have direct contact with patients in hospitals run by the Veterans Affairs Department will be required to get vaccinated. In late July the 115,000 frontline healthcare workers for the department (the largest federal agency) were given eight weeks to get fully vaccinated, becoming the first agency to mandate its workforce receive the COVID vaccine.

Secretary of veterans affairs Denis McDonough told the NYT that the rule would ensure the safety of patients. 

“I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” McDonough said. 

According to reports, about 70% of veterans affairs healthcare employees are fully vaccinated.

McDonough added that the rule, which applied to doctors, dentists, registered nurses and some specialists, would mean penalties for those who refused to get vaccinated including possible removal. The White House has been informed of the veterans affairs secretary’s decision. 

The move follows a similar standard for thousands of New York state employees announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo that makes it a requirement for workers to either show proof of vaccination or undertake weekly COVID tests. The governor said it was also mandatory for patient-facing health workers to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment at state-run hospitals. 

New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio has also instituted a rule that will come into effect by 23 August, and see all municipal workers vaccinated by the time children return to school in September — or subject to regular COVID testing. 

In Texas, a federal court recently dismissed a case brought by a group of employees from the Houston Methodist Hospital, who brought their employer to court over a requirement that all hospital workers be required to get the vaccine. 

Another relevant decision by a US federal judge found that students at Indiana University could be required to get vaccinated. 

About half of the American population over 12 years are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, in Australia, a federal government decision to make vaccination mandatory for all residential aged care workers is facing a looming deadline. The National Cabinet had agreed on 28 June that it would be a condition of working in such facilities to receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 17 September. 

Aged care workers are included in the phase 1a group identified in the community as being among the highest priority for vaccination.

By mid July only one in four (120,011) aged care workers were recorded as being fully vaccinated, and 43% had received their first dose. 

The issue of vaccine uptake among aged care workers is a matter of concern for the Australian government following news on Sunday that 12 residents of a nursing home at Summer Hill, NSW, have tested positive (suspected to have caught the virus from a staff member who had received their first vaccine dose, and tested positive on 27 July).

The facility is currently in lockdown and being deep-cleaned while all residents isolate

Hardi, the operator of the nursing home, said all COVID positive residents had been transferred to hospital as a precaution and the employee is isolating at home.

The group said 80% of its 65 residents and over 75% of its 60 staff were fully vaccinated. About 80% of the nursing home staff have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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