In July 2021, President Biden announced federal COVID-19 safety protocols and incentives that helped increase the number of people in the United States who have received the COVID-19 vaccine from 164 million to 175 million in just a few short months.
New research now shows that only one in 5,000 people who are fully vaccinated may test positive for COVID-19 per week. This number includes the newer Delta, Lambda, and Mu variants of the disease, and it’s a positive step in the right direction for those working to end the pandemic.
To further aid in these efforts, on September 9, 2021 President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan: Path Out of the Pandemic was revealed. It aims to further decrease the number of unvaccinated individuals, and it also enacts weekly testing requirements for certain workers who are unvaccinated in order to help increase workplace safety.
How Does Biden’s COVID-19 Plan Affect Businesses and Federal Staff?
Understanding the Vaccine and Test Mandates
Under Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been tasked with developing a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which is expected to be revealed about 2-8 weeks after the Plan’s September 9th announcement.
The ETS is a directive that will contain details on how to enact the COVID-19 Action Plan for vaccine or test mandates. Let’s take a look at how this ETS is likely to affect large businesses and federal staff.
The Vaccine Mandate for Businesses with 100 Employees or More
As part of the Plan, President Biden issued an Executive Order Vaccine Mandate that covers businesses with 100 employees or more. This order includes two key provisions that these businesses must require from their employees:
- Proof of COVID-19 vaccination OR
- COVID-19 testing at least weekly, with a negative test prior to coming into work
Calculating the Number of Workers
It is expected that the calculation of staff for this part of the Executive Mandate will be based on the total number of people employed by a business, rather than the total number of people per worksite. However, this number is not expected to include remote workers who work from home permanently. The exact details of the worker calculation criteria will be revealed when the ETS is approved and rolled out to the public.
The Vaccine Mandate for Federal Workers and Federal Contractors
The Executive Order Vaccine Mandate for federal contractors and federal workers has the same two provision requirements as the mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees or more: full COVID-19 vaccination or COVID-19 testing on at least a weekly basis.
Who is Considered a Federal Worker or Contractor Under this Mandate?
Federal workers who are employed by any of the government’s federal executive branch agencies are covered by this mandate.
In addition, worksites where federal contractors are working on or in connection with a Federal Contract connected to the Federal Government are covered by this mandate.
Some federal contractors may be working at commercial sites in order to fulfill federal contracts, and it’s unclear at this point if everyone at that worksite who is not a federal contractor would also be subject to the ETS.
Additional FAQs for Businesses: President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan
Is Weekly Testing or Vaccination for Businesses Under 100 Employees Required?
As we just saw, there is a possibility that even commercial businesses with less than 100 employees may be subject to Biden’s Executive mandate if federal contractors perform duties there.
In addition, OSHA (who is in charge of creating the ETS that guides the enforcement of the mandate) has issued prior COVID-19 directives that make employers responsible for protecting the safety of third party vendors and customers who show up to their worksites.
This is why some small businesses (<100 employees) may want to consider vaccination or weekly testing for employees who service the larger companies, especially those with federal contractors or workers. These larger companies may be hesitant to do business with you if your employees aren’t tested or vaccinated for COVID-19 out of fear of falling out of compliance with the mandate and infecting their workforce.
What COVID-19 Tests Can Be Used?
The FDA states that there are two main types of tests: antibody and diagnostic tests. Antibody tests cannot be used to diagnose COVID-19 because they cannot determine if you have an active case of the disease. This is because antibodies might take weeks to form once the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is present.
Both rapid antigen and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are considered viral diagnostic tests that can be used to diagnose COVID-19.
Because PCR tests are more accurate, they are considered the ‘gold standard’ of COVID-19 testing. Research reveals that these types of tests have shown a sensitivity rate of more than 94%. This is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) requires a follow-up PCR test after a negative rapid antigen test in certain situations.
It’s also why many companies choose PCR tests over rapid antigen tests to help keep their workforce safe and healthy, and to save money on follow-up testing.
What Can Be Used As Proof of Vaccination?
Under the mandate, impacted employers must obtain proof of vaccination from their employees if they are not requiring weekly COVID-19 testing. The documentation for proof of COVID-19 vaccination can be digital or hard copy, must comply with Federal laws, and can include a copy of:
- The healthcare provider, pharmacy, public health, or state immunization information system immunization records
- A COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card
- Medical records documenting the vaccination
- Other official documentation that includes the type of vaccination given, immunization date, and immunizing agency
What are Vaccine Exemptions?
The Biden Action Plan mentioned certain medical and religious exemptions to the Executive Order Vaccine Mandate.
OSHA’s ETS will likely guide states to limit exemptions due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC lists underlying medical conditions that are likely to qualify for exemption. In addition, the General Service Administration’s (GSA) Safer Federal Workforce provides some helpful pointers that employers can consider when deciding on both religious and medical exemptions for COVID-19.
It’s important to keep in mind that, for those impacted by the mandate, weekly COVID-19 testing will still be required if a medical or religious exemption is granted.
When Will the Mandate Take Effect?
When OSHA’s ETS is published in the Federal Register, it takes effect immediately in the states and territories that are considered federal OSHA states.
The remaining states have their own plans that must be “at least as effective as” the Federal mandate. Officials in these states are given 30 days after the ETS is published in the Federal Register to amend their plans to meet or exceed the guidelines set forth in the Federal mandate.
Is the Mandate Permanent?
Right now the mandate is temporary. This allows for a comment and amendment period before a permanent standard is put into place, typically in about 6 months. If you’d like to add your voice to this process, comments are submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. You’ll need to obtain the ETS docket number once it is published in the Federal Register in order to comment.
How Can Businesses Save Money on COVID-19 Testing Under the ETS?
Biden’s Action Plan doesn’t specifically state that employers must compensate employees for time spent getting COVID-19 testing, but it does defer to local and state labor laws on the subject. This means that it is likely businesses will have to pay their staff for any time spent away from work for COVID-19 testing.
For this reason, finding highly accurate, flexible COVID-19 testing packages that allow for quick workplace screenings, at-home testing by employees, and even drop-shipping directly to homes is key to saving time and money.
The most intelligent testing packages are designed to:
- Increase productivity by reducing employees’ time away from work and creating a healthier environment
- Decrease compensation pay by alleviating time-consuming pharmacy and health clinic visits
CommunityLab works with your company to create a scalable testing program that meets your safety and productivity needs. You get to decide what works best for you. We offer you our Home Collection Package, At-Work Screening Package, or a Custom Package designed with your unique worksite requirements in mind.
All our packages contain the ‘gold standard’ PCR COVID-19 testing kits and Yale University’s state-of-the-art SalivaDirect™ collection and lab analysis protocol.
Our experienced lab technicians are all COLA and CLIA certified, and we provide you with 24-hour turnaround time and the know-how to reduce COVID-19’s impacts on your business. Contact us today to find out how we can help guide your company smoothly through the new government Plan with a COVID-19 testing package that accelerates your success.