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The White House is delaying its mandate for contractors to get vaccinated against Covid-19 until Jan. 4, the administration announced Thursday, as it rolled out more details about its sweeping vaccination mandates.

Contractors previously had until Dec. 8 to get vaccinated, per a September executive order from the White House. They now have until Jan. 4, as do health workers at hospitals and facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.

Under a separate policy, companies with 100 or more employees will also have until Jan. 4 to mandate full vaccinations for their workers or offer a plan for weekly testing. But by Dec. 5, they must require unvaccinated workers to wear masks and undergo weekly testing.

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“More vaccinations are needed to save lives, protect the economy, and accelerate the path out of the pandemic,” a senior administration official told reporters on a press call Wednesday night.

The delay is aimed at making it easier for businesses and workers to comply with Biden’s rules, according to the senior administration officials. These requirements had been announced previously, but the Thursday announcement offers more clarity about timing, requirements, and enforcement by federal agencies.

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While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will oversee and enforce the policy for 84 million nonmedical employees, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will enforce the distinct, stricter mandate for more than 17 million workers employed in health care settings, including hospitals, surgery centers, home health agencies, and long-term care facilities.

Senior administration officials said the policies would aid economic recovery, citing a Sept. 13 report from Goldman Sachs that concluded “an increase in vaccination and almost full vaccination at workplaces should encourage many of the 5 [million] workers that have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic to return.”

For nonmedical workplaces, the policy means that employees have until Jan. 4 to receive two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or opt into getting tested weekly and wearing masks in the workplace. OSHA has issued an Emergency Temporary Standard for the program, which will require employers to provide paid time off and sick leave for workers to get vaccinated and recover from potential temporary side effects. Notably, the Emergency Temporary Standard does not require employers to provide or pay for tests, though they may have to do so under other laws or agreements.

During the call, the senior administration officials compared the vaccination and testing standard to regulations in place to minimize the risks of exposure to blood-borne illness, loud noises, and accidental falls. As with these standards, OSHA can enforce the new policy based on workplace inspections and worker complaints and level fines of up to $13,653 per violation and $136,532 for willful or repeated violations to noncompliant workplaces.

The mandate for health care workers supersedes OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard, and employees will not be given an option to test weekly and wear a mask instead of getting vaccinated. The policy will apply to all staff, regardless of their role, and only exemptions for medical and religious reasons will be accepted.

Senior administration officials pointed to the more than 2,500 hospitals that have announced vaccine requirements and highlighted several mandates’ effects in boosting the proportion of vaccinated workers. For example, 94% of Trinity Health’s 112,000-person workforce had been vaccinated as of late September; when it first announced a vaccine requirement in July, it estimated that 75% of the staff had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

CMS will be able to enforce the policy for participating health care facilities — which employ the majority of health care workers in the U.S. — through civil monetary penalties, denial of payments, or termination from the Medicare or Medicaid programs.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the White House delay applied to the Nov. 22 deadline for federal workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19. It does not. 

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