As Delta variant spreads, so do vaccine mandates

·Senior Editor
·5-min read

Spurred by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, new cases of COVID-19 have risen in the U.S. by 170 percent over the last two weeks. Accompanying that rise, which is expected to continue to worsen heading into the fall, a slew of new vaccine mandates are being enacted across the country.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it will require 115,000 of its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated over the next two months. 

“Yes, Veterans Affairs is going to in fact require that all docs working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated,” President Biden told reporters Monday in the Oval Office. 

With less than 50 percent of the U.S. population having been fully inoculated against COVID-19, several hospital systems nationwide have instituted similar policies requiring employees to be vaccinated or face termination.

Presentation of the new digital COVID-19 vaccination passport COVPASS in Potsdam, Germany, May 27, 2021.    Soeren Stache/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - PARTS OF THE IMAGE HAVE BEEN BLURRED AT SOURCE
The new digital COVID-19 vaccination passport in Germany. (Soeren Stache/Pool/Reuters)

Many of the recent policy changes have been driven by local governments at the city, county and state level. 

Earlier this month, San Francisco issued a new policy requiring city employees to be vaccinated. 

“To protect the health and safety of all City employees and the public, the City has implemented a new Vaccination Policy,” the policy states

“The policy requires that all City employees: 1. Report their vaccination status, including verification documents, by July 29, 2021. 2. Be fully vaccinated and report that vaccination status to the City no later than 10 weeks after the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) gives final approval to at least one COVID-19 vaccine. Per the July 8, 2021 Health Order, City employees working in high-risk settings are required to be fully vaccinated by September 15th, 2021, regardless of whether the FDA has given final approval to a vaccine by that date.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has also pushed local businesses to issue their own vaccination requirements. 

On Monday, the state of California followed San Francisco’s lead, releasing a new policy that requires state employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly testing for the virus starting Aug. 2. 

Since the start of July, the number of new daily reported cases of COVID-19 has exploded in the nation’s largest state, going from 700 new cases on July 3 to nearly 9,000 reported last Friday. 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a similar policy on Monday for his city that requires all New York City municipal workers to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests. The policy will affect approximately 300,000 workers in New York and will take effect on Sept. 13. 

While it is largely up to private businesses to decide whether to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from customers, more and more companies and business owners are now grappling with the decision to impose restrictions in the wake of the spike in new infections thanks to the Delta variant. 

Yet a political divide has taken hold across America, with Republican-led states like Florida having instituted policies that bar “vaccine passports” that offer proof of inoculations, as well as mask mandates. Last week Florida led the nation in new COVID-19 cases, reporting 73,181 over a seven-day period. Florida also reported 319 deaths from the disease last week, the highest number of any state. Hospitalizations are also up dramatically there. 

Orange County, Fla., Mayor Jerry Demings told reporters Monday that his county was now back in the same dire condition it was in during the height of the pandemic last fall. 

“Those are the numbers we saw at the highest peak last year. A thousand a day is extraordinary. We are now in crisis mode,” he said. 

Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, noted that all of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the county on Friday were unvaccinated. 

“On Friday, [there] was 1,031 cases. On Friday, those cases, no one was vaccinated — not a single person,” Pino said.

Public health experts estimate that at least 70 percent of the population would need to develop antibodies for COVID-19 either through vaccination or prior infection for the population to achieve herd immunity. If that were to happen, those who could not be vaccinated due to preexisting health conditions could be protected from the virus. 

But since the virus remains widespread, it continues to mutate. One of those mutations, the Delta variant, is proving to be roughly twice as transmissible as the original strain. The more those changes are allowed to multiply, health experts say, the greater the risk that existing vaccines may prove less effective. 

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