Biden told reporters on Thursday that he’s ordered the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a directive requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to show their workers are either fully vaccinated or testing negative for the coronavirus on a weekly basis. Similar orders have been put in place for health care facilities as well as for companies serving as federal contractors.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., said the president’s decision to use businesses for “his vaccine police force” is just as wrong as how New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is asking businesses such as restaurants and gyms to verify a patron’s vaccination status before letting them enter.
“This mandate as a condition of employment in both the public and private sectors is wrong, infringes on the rights and freedoms of Americans and strays from government’s role of informing, educating, and encouraging,” tweeted the first-term Republican serving Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.
Malliotakis added it was bringing the country a step closer to “a dystopian future” where individual rights are ransacked by the government.
Biden’s announcement comes after New York leaders, initially led by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in late July, called for state workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
In addition, the state last month expanded an order for health care workers to get vaccinated or lose their job to include all hospitals and long-term care facilities to be vaccinated. Health care workers cannot opt out by test and have only a few exemptions available for the immunocompromised.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has continued implementing the vaccine mandates. During a news conference Wednesday, she said she wants a vaccination-or-test requirement in effect for all workers except for health care staffers by Oct. 12.
Health care workers still face a deadline that’s nearly two weeks away to get their first dose, and Hochul said that’s because they’re among the workers who are the most exposed to COVID-19.
The governor said she understood it may cause problems, especially since there’s an ongoing shortage of health care workers.
“But we have to encourage more people to get vaccines,” she said. “So they can be in their workplace and we get back to normal and take care of people who are sick or who are in these various facilities.”
That stance has caused some heartburn for Republican state lawmakers, who have heard from their local health care providers about the rigid mandate.
Those calls led Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, and the rest of the GOP Assembly caucus to write a letter this week to Hochul and State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. In it, they said the vaccine mandate could lead to as many as 25% of New York’s health care workers losing their jobs.
Such a loss of staff would “decimate” the health care industry, they said, and they’ve asked what steps have administration officials taken to ensure the state’s needs can be met.
The GOP lawmakers recommended that improving access to personal protective equipment may be a better idea than cutting unvaccinated workers.
“We, along with the overwhelming majority of the medical community, continue to support vaccination and immunization as a vital ingredient to combating this virus and protecting public health, but we cannot let this mandate unintentionally worsen the existing situation by weakening our healthcare system’s capacity to treat patients, which will leave our rural regions and other healthcare deserts in New York State exceptionally vulnerable,” the caucus wrote.
On Friday, two anonymous people in the New York health care industry filed a federal lawsuit against Hochul, Zucker, Trinity Health, Inc., New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc. (NYP), and Westchester Medical Center Advanced Physician Services.
According to a release issued by Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization that represents clients in religious freedom cases, one plaintiff is the president of a faith-based senior care center. If he cannot respect his workers’ vaccine objections, he will have just one staff member by Oct. 7. The other is a health care worker whose Church of Christ, Scientist faith prohibits him from getting a vaccine. He’s had religious exemptions for more than 10 years, but New York will not recognize it anymore.
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman, said in a statement New York and health care facilities must recognize his clients’ constitutional rights.
“Governor Hochul and New York health care facilities cannot override federal law and force health care workers to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by forcing them to inject an experimental substance,” Staver said.
What Staver claims is an “experimental substance” has been reviewed by both federal and New York health officials prior to being distributed to the public.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer vaccine for individuals ages 16 and older. It has also given emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer vaccine in kids ages 12 to 15. Emergency authorizations have also been approved for the Johnson and Johnson and the Moderna vaccines for adults.
After the FDA issued its emergency use authorizations for all three vaccines, then-Gov. Cuomo had a state health panel review the documentation before they were allowed in the state.