WASHINGTON (AP) — Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden is anxiously pushing ahead to prod people to get COVID-19 shots after the Supreme Court put a halt to the administration’s sweeping vaccinate-or-test plan for large employers.

The administration is hopeful that states and businesses will purchase their own vaccines or tests at a time where hospitals are becoming overcrowded and people with the Omicron variant are contracting the disease. And if the presidential “bully pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.

Biden said that while some within the business community celebrated the loss of the mandate’s passage, he insisted that his administration efforts were not futile. The high court’s ruling Thursday “does not stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” he said.

The court’s conservative majority all-but-struck down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly. It did however include a requirement that health workers be vaccinated.

The White House also announced that Friday’s federal website will be where Americans can request their own free COVID-19 testsNext Wednesday, orders will be accepted. These tests may encourage some people to get vaccinated. The administration also wants to reduce the national shortage. Supplies will be limited to just four free tests per home.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA appeared to overstep its congressional authority to implement occupational standards, saying, “Although COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most.”

The mandate was announced last September, accompanied by biting criticism from Biden for the roughly 80 million American adults who hadn’t yet gotten shots.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said. The unvaccinated minority, he said, “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

Biden spoke out after the Supreme Court’s ruling and expressed dismay at the result, but noted that mandates already have the intended effect of decreasing the unvaccinated population.

“Today, that number is down to under 35 million,” he said of the unvaccinated. “Had my administration not put vaccination requirements in place, we would be now experiencing a higher death toll from COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations.”

The court did not rule out the U.S. being able to pursue further targeted mandates but White House officials indicated that they had no plans for a revision of the regulation.

“It’s now up to the states and individual employers to put in place vaccination requirements,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday.

The United States is already “languishing,’’ with a 60% vaccination rate, near the bottom of peer nations, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.

“The OSHA rule was truly the president’s last best shot at significantly boosting the vaccination rate,’’ Gostin said. But the court, “in a very highly partisan way, intentionally tried to handcuff the president in doing what he needs to do.’’

Many large businesses that had already put in place vaccination-or-testing requirements indicated they had no plans to reverse course. However, smaller businesses said that they felt a relief and feared worker shortages should the OSHA rule be implemented.

The Supreme Court decision has “taken a little bit of a burden of worry off of our shoulders,” said Kyle Caraway, marketing director at Doolittle Trailer Manufacturing, which joined a lawsuit by the Missouri attorney general challenging Biden’s policy. According to him, 90% of Holts Summit’s 175 employees indicated that they will not comply with vaccination requirements.

“It became apparent to us that our team was going to shrink greatly overnight if that vaccine mandate went into place,” said Caraway, who counted himself among those opposing Biden’s policy. Halting production could have forced the company “to consider shuttering our doors,” he said.

Service Employees International Union represents 2,000,000 workers. It said that while the court ruling was beneficial for workers in health care, it leaves other workers without important protections.

“In blocking the vaccine-or-test rule for large employers, the court has placed millions of other essential workers further at risk, caving to corporations that are trying to rig the rules against workers permanently,” the union said.

It urged Congress and the states to make laws mandating vaccinations, wearing masks, and taking sick days. According to the union, workers also require better access for testing and protective gear.

As a record-breaking number of Americans become hospitalized for COVID-19, nearly 800,000.000 people are being admitted to the US each day. Resistance to vaccinations is still a concern, especially in conservative states such as Mississippi, Alabama and Wyoming, where only half the population has been fully vaccinated.

Nationally, hospitals are experiencing a severe shortage of staff and people flooding in to emergency rooms for testing. In dozens of States, National Guard troops were activated to assist at nursing homes, medical centers and testing sites.

A hospital on the edge of the Kansas City area had to borrow ventilators from the state of Missouri’s stockpile and hunt for more high-flow oxygen machines, and the largest county in Kansas said Friday that it’s running out of morgue space — again.

Gostin predicted the court’s action would have grave influence on other federal agencies’ efforts to protect public health, by ruling that OSHA can’t regulate something that would have a huge economic impact without explicit authorization from Congress. And he said states won’t be able to make up for the ruling’s impact.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s taught us that states can’t deal with big, bold problems, can’t prevent a pathogen from going from Florida to New York,” he said. “These are national problems requiring federal solutions.’’

Psaki said the White House would work with businesses to promote the benefits of vaccination-or-testing requirements and that Biden would highlight successful programs.

“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure,” Biden said. So “I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including one third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”


David A. Lieb from Jefferson City, Missouri contributed. Lindsay Tanner from Chicago also contributed.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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