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Employer vax mandate headlines Biden’s new COVID response

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WASHINGTON (KWWL) - President Joe Biden announced a new six-part plan to fight the fourth wave of COVID-19 On Thursday. The president said this is now a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" and is using his power to get the remainder of eligible Americans vaccinated.

1. Vaccines

The president is directing the Department of Labor to install an emergency rule requiring all companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccines or do weekly testing of employees. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA can regulate workplace safety in all businesses nationwide. The Secretary of Labor also has the authority to issue emergency orders when there is a grave danger to employees because of "exposure to substances or agents."

The Republican National convention called this "unconstitutional and un-American" Thursday night. Governor Kim Reynolds also said it is an "unprecedented step" that is bad for Iowans.

KWWL interviewed a law professor from Drake University in August who said governments mandating vaccines in private businesses "could lead to a slippery slope in other areas."

Biden is also issuing an executive order to require all employees in the Executive Branch to get vaccinated and people that contract with the federal government. Biden says employers must offer paid time off to all employees missing work to get vaccinated.

2. Further Protecting the Vaccinated

Biden says his administration will continue increasing capacity for the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot so that they are available at 80,000 locations nationwide.

3. Keeping Schools Safely Open

Biden promised to use all his power to stop states like Iowa from making mask mandates illegal. Iowa is the only state which banned mask mandates through a state law, and not through an executive order or proclamation.

Some local health experts and parents in Eastern Iowa have urged their school boards to defy this law over the past few weeks. So far, no district has been willing to do so. A lawyer for the Iowa City Community School District cautioned his school board against it, saying school officials could lose their licenses.

On Thursday, Biden said if any teacher gets their salary withheld for breaking one of these laws, the federal government will refund them 100%. He also said he will use the full power of the Department of Education to explore lawsuits.

4. Increase Testing and Require Masking

The Biden Administration has been working with nationwide companies like Amazon, Walmart and Kroger to make at-home rapid testing available. He says soon those tests will be available at a 35% price cut.

Biden will continue to require masks on airplanes and says he will double the fine for disobeying.

5. Economic Recovery

The president says he will expand the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Program for small business and streamline the process for business to get their PPP loans forgiven.

6. Improving Care for COVID Patients

The president says he will increase aid to hospitals struggling with capacity issues and expand the availability of the monoclonal antibody treatment.

Read the president's full plan here.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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