WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a series of new steps to try to stem the resurgence of COVID-19, with a new vaccination requirement for nursing home employees and a push against states that are blocking mask mandates in schools.
In a speech on the new measures from the White House, Biden said he will direct nursing homes to require their staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing federal funding that would normally contribute to Medicare or Medicaid.
“If you work in a nursing home and serve people on Medicare or Medicaid, you will also be required to be vaccinated,” Biden said.
The nursing home edict is the latest escalation in the White House’s push to fight the coronavirus. COVID-19 cases have spiked across the country in the last several weeks, driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. The president on Wednesday also asked the Department of Education to use its power to combat the spread of the coronavirus in schools, a direct response to some Republican governors' decisions to ban mask mandates in classrooms.
"Today, I'm directing the secretary of education, an educator himself, to take additional steps to protect our children,” Biden said at the White House. “This includes using all of his oversight authorities, and legal action, if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local educators. As I've said before, if you're not going to fight COVID-19, at least get out of the way of everyone else who's trying.”
Texas is currently locked in a fight with local school districts attempting to disobey Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning mask mandates, with the state Supreme Court at least temporarily siding with Abbott on Sunday.
Biden said money from the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year, can be used to pay an educator's salary if a governor decides to cut the pay of someone who requires masks in their classrooms.
Nursing home residents made up an outsize number of deaths during the pandemic. More than 130,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The CMS also reported 597,087 cases among staff. After a lull in cases, the count is now increasing again largely due to unvaccinated staff.
The Biden administration said Wednesday that the new regulations will apply to more than 15,000 nursing homes, accounting for roughly 1.3 million staff and 1.6 million residents. Earlier this year, health officials said vaccinations had dramatically reduced the number of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes.
The new steps came the same day the administration announced plans to offer a vaccine booster shot beginning Sept. 20 for most Americans who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Nursing home residents and healthcare workers will be among the first who should receive extra shots, according to the change, since they were the earliest to receive their first doses.
“Just remember, as a simple rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot,” Biden said Wednesday.
He also defended the booster decision from people who question why the US is distributing third shots while other countries have been unable to give vulnerable people their first. “We can take care of America and help the world at the same time,” Biden said.