Washington — President Biden said Tuesday he is considering a mandate for all federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the administration struggles to combat the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and increase the pace of vaccinations.
"It's under consideration right now, but if you're not vaccinated right now, you're not nearly as smart as I thought you were," the president said when asked about a possible mandate for federal workers following a speech at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Virginia.
The prospect of a federal employee vaccine requirement comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionthat even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in regions with high community transmission. On Monday, the to require vaccines for thousands of its employees.
Mr. Biden is expected on Thursday to announce new mask guidance for federal employees. A memo distributed to federal workers on Tuesday said all federal employees, contractors and visitors in "areas of substantial or high community transmission" will be required to wear masks, whether or not they are vaccinated. Unvaccinated employees will also be required to maintain social distance from others. White House staff will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Mr. Biden is also considering mandating regular testing for unvaccinated federal employees.
Until now, the Biden administration has shied away from the idea of a vaccine mandate, as the White House and public health officials try to persuade Americans to get their shots. But the highly transmissible Delta variant, and rising cases in much of the country, have begun to change the dynamic.
The federal government employs nearly 2.2 million workers, and the Defense Department alone employs roughly 768,000 people, according to the data from the Office of Personnel Management.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday the White House will continue to look to the guidance of public health experts, and the president and White House staff will wear masks if needed to follow that guidance. The Delta variant now accounts for the vast majority of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
"First, we will, of course, be abiding by every aspect of the CDC guidelines on masking that they will provide this afternoon," Psaki said earlier Tuesday. "And that does mean, as you conveyed, that we will be looking at the rates in different areas where the president may visit, and also the rates as they, if they move in Washington, D.C., and we will apply guidance accordingly. That means we will be prepared to wear masks again if required, if the guidance is leading to that, as would the president. And that will continue to be the case."
The president confirmed Tuesday that he will wear a mask when he goes to areas of the country with high community transmission.
"I certainly will when I travel to these areas," he said.