The day before Biden’s plan was announced, 100 million Americans would be vaccinated and try to increase virus testing. With those measures in place, he said, schools should see a much lower risk for coronavirus infection.
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“I want to know that we’re getting better,” Biden said during an appearance at Brookland Middle School, a short drive from the White House. “We know what we need to do to keep our kids safe and keep our schools open.” But the growing Covid-1 del delta variant creates uncertainty at the start of a new school year – in some cases persuading schools to close a few days later – it is unclear whether Biden’s plan will go far enough to prevent mass disruption. Biden has no direct authority over most schools, which are usually run at the local level, and his plans face strong resistance from Republicans.
Under its extended vaccine mandate, all employers, including more than 100 employees, must get their shots every week or get tested for the virus. A separate provision requires vaccinations for workers in head start programs and in schools run by the federal government, which affects about 300,000 workers.
The plan explicitly does not require vaccinations for teachers in locally run schools, but some educators believe that employer regulations will effectively require a teacher vaccine in many states.
That part of the plan is being formulated through an upcoming regulation on occupational safety and health administration. And in OSHA-planned states, teachers will need vaccines or face-to-face testing, according to AASA, an organization of school superintendents.
It would apply to 26 states, including Republican governors who opposed Biden’s plan, such as South Carolina, Tennessee and Arizona.
Biden did not mention that aspect of his plan on Friday. Instead, he called on states to issue their own vaccine requirements for school staff.
“About 90% of school staff and teachers have been vaccinated – we should have it 100%,” Biden said. “I urge all governors to vaccinate all teachers and staff.”
Governors in several states have already ordered teachers to be vaccinated, including in California, Oregon, New Jersey and New York. But for the most part it leaves school districts and some Republican-led states block the vaccine order.
On Friday, Biden reprimanded Republican governors who vowed to fight his new rule.
“I’m very disappointed that some Republican governors, in particular, are so concerned about the health of these children, about the health of their communities,” he said. “We’re playing for real here. It’s not a game.”
But most of his comments hit a more conciliatory tone than Thursday’s speech, where Biden expressed his frustration with those who were unpublished. He returned to Unity’s message on Friday, insisting that “we must unite” to defeat the virus.
Speaking to students in Brooklyn, Biden praised those who had already been vaccinated. If all of them get shot, Biden promises to invite them to a special visit to the White House.
He also retained Washington DC as a model. The city has hosted vaccination clinics at its public schools, and 65% of children aged 12 to 17 have received at least their first shot, Biden said, with the rate being the highest in the country.
In an appeal to American families, Biden urged parents to vaccinate teenagers and other eligible children as soon as possible. He argued that it was no different than the standard vaccine for measles, mumps, rubella and other diseases.
But the biggest threat to his plan is the majority population of children who are still too young to be shot. Most primary and middle schools have children under the age of 12 who are not approved for the coronavirus vaccine.
Speaking of those concerns, Biden said he supported an “independent” scientific process for reviewing shots, but promised to make it safe as well as reach young children.
“I will do everything in my power to support the Food and Drug Administration in its efforts to make food and drug administration as safe and scientific as possible,” he said.
The extended vaccine mandate does not apply to students, but has moved toward the need for shots for some district students. The Los Angeles district became the first major district this week to issue an order for students 12 years of age or older.
In addition to vaccinations, Biden’s plan aims to increase virus testing in schools.
Examination policies vary widely by school and state. Some districts regularly test all students, including the Los Angeles district, while others waive exams. And for many, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find test supplies amid a nationwide shortage of rapid testing.
As part of the White House plan, the government is working to increase the supply of virus testing and make it available to retailers, including Walmart and Amazon. Biden said it would lead to 300 million more coronavirus tests, including for some schools.
“I want all schools to have regular testing programs to make sure we identify and isolate cases before they spread,” Biden said.
The plan is supported by the country’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Both groups have approved vaccine mandates for all teachers and school staff.
Other education groups that support the plan include the National School Boards Association, which says it is coming at a “very critical time”. The group said it welcomed Biden’s support even though education leaders faced “threats, abuse and harassment” over their public health system.
Speaking to Biden on Friday, First Lady Jill Biden praised the academics as “heroes” for their work last year. Longtime Community College professor, First Lady, said it is the duty of Americans to protect students when they return to the classroom.
“We promise to keep their schools as open as possible,” he said. “We are committed to following their science – we work for their unity so we can fight the virus, not each other.”
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