The Biden administration announced Wednesday that federal agencies should mandate weekly COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated government employees who interface with the public or work on-site beginning February 15.
U.S. President Joe Biden's September vaccine requirement covers more than 3.5 million federal employees and requires them to be completely immunized by November 22 or risk potential penalty or even termination.
Over 90% of the 3.5 million federal employees have taken at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination prior to Biden's November deadline. The new testing guidance is applicable to people who have been granted or asked for exemptions.
Additionally, federal agencies may conduct more frequent testing for "particular responsibilities, functions, or work situations."
Personnel who refuse to take a mandatory test may face a variety of "disciplinary sanctions," including job restrictions or temporary paid vacation.
The latest rule will apply to federal personnel who are not inoculated or are excluded from vaccination because of health, religious or other reasons.
The administration has, however, exempted federal employees from the testing requirement if they work remotely or do not report to a worksite or interact with members of the public in person.
As of Dec. 8, the U.S. government reported compliance at 97.2%, with 92.5 percent of employees receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination.
Last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urged federal agencies to refrain from imposing penalty beyond education and counseling or a letter of reprimand on the majority of employees who had not complied by January.
Last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urged federal agencies to refrain from imposing penalty beyond education and counseling or a letter of reprimand on the majority of employees who had not complied by January. OMB did not immediately respond to a request for information on the number of American employees penalized for noncompliance with the guidelines.
Biden's vaccine mandate excludes federal employees in the judicial and legislative departments, as well as those employed by the United States Postal Service (USPS).
USPS is subject to a regulation requiring vaccines or tests for businesses with 100 or more employees, but has requested a delay in meeting those requirements.
Employers are confused about how to proceed following the months-long legal struggle over the mandate, which was earlier suspended by a federal judge before being reinstated.
While the Supreme Court justices expressed reservations about the regulation on Friday, they did not intervene to prevent it from being implemented by Monday's deadline.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the body charged with implementing the rule, has stated that penalties for noncompliance will not be issued until February 9. That is the deadline for businesses to implement the alternate weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees.