Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:48 p.m. to include remarks by U.S. President Joe Biden.
COVID-19 vaccine mandates are about to become much more common across Orange County — and the country — following an announcement from President Joe Biden mandating vaccines or weekly testing on businesses with more than 100 employees.
“We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said in a Thursday White House speech. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“Tonight, I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees — who together employ over 80 million workers — to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week. Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this.”
Biden also announced an executive order requiring all federal government employees and contractors to be vaccinated.
He’s also requiring vaccinations for health care workers.
“If you’re seeking care at a health care facility, you should be able to know that the people who are treating you are vaccinated,” Biden said. “Today — in total — the vaccine requirements in my plan will affect about 100 million Americans — two-thirds of all workers.”
UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Sanghyuk Shin, said the mandates are a move in the right direction.
“I think overall it’s a great idea and I think that’s the kind of policy that’s needed to end this pandemic,” Shin said in a phone interview before Biden’s speech.
Shin, a chief local proponent of masks and other pandemic measures, said he hoped Biden’s announcement goes beyond just vaccines — like masks or reducing the number of people allowed indoors at public places.
“That said I still think that vaccine only focus has failed us and we need to look broader into other mitigation measures that have been shown to work and I hope that the President releases his policy that it’s not solely focused on vaccines and that there are other mitigations that are announced as well.”
Biden on Thursday announced the Transit Security Administration (TSA) will double the fines for travelers who refuse to wear masks: “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay.”
He also announced a new plan to expand rapid testing availability nationwide, which includes an agreement with major retailers like Walmart and Kroger to — no later than next week — begin selling at-home rapid test kits “at cost, for the next three months.”
Biden warned against governors and other officials who try to block pandemic mitigation measures in classrooms.
“Right now local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic, while the governor picks a fight with them … talk about bullying the schools,” Biden said. “I’ll use my powers as the president to get them out of the way.”
Community health centers, schools and food banks can expect an influx of 3 million test kits, Biden said.
At a Thursday news conference before the White House speech, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley also said they’ve been hearing about the incoming mandate.
“Today we heard President Biden has announced or is announcing very strong vaccine mandates for any employer of a business that has 100 or more employees. They must either require vaccinations or offer weekly testing,” Foley said.
Foley also said the incoming mandate also includes federal contractors.
“So it’s a sweeping mandate as it relates to COVID vaccines,” Foley said.
Various news reports indicate the federal vaccine mandate would apply to 100 million people across the United States.
Biden’s vaccine mandate largely mirrors California’s shot requirements, which Gov. Gavin Newsom began rolling out over the past couple months.
Most recently, people need to show they’ve either been fully vaccinated or tested negative for COVID within the last three days before going into indoor venues with more than 1,000 people.
More than 2 million Orange County residents have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as of Sept. 9, according to the County of Orange’s most recent available data.
As of Thursday, 432 OC residents were hospitalized, including 132 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
The virus has now killed 5,295 people throughout the county.
That’s almost five times more people than the flu kills in two years, on average.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who was also at the Thursday news conference with Foley, said the federal mandate mirrors the city’s approach to vaccine mandates.
“I think it’s absolutely the right approach,” Garcia said. “It’s truly the approach we have here in Long Beach.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.