U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday the country is heading in the "right direction" in controlling the coronavirus pandemic, while staunchly defending vaccination mandates that he and numerous large corporations are imposing.
About 66 million Americans remain unvaccinated, down from 100 million in July, Biden said at the White House.
"We're headed in the right direction," Biden said, "but we can't let up now. Please get vaccinated. That's how we put this pandemic behind us."
Across the country, rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing. Last week, the average number of daily cases was 86,000, down 15,000 from the week before. Johns Hopkins University said 200 fewer Americans are dying per day compared to earlier in the latest COVID-19 surge, but that 1,500 were still dying daily.
Numerous conservative Republican opponents of the Democratic president, including two possible 2024 presidential foes, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have assailed Biden's support for vaccination mandates as an infringement on the freedom of people to make their own health care decisions.
But Biden said, "The mounting data shows that vaccine mandates work."
"Let's be clear," he said, "vaccine mandates should not be another issue that divides us."
Biden has ordered all U.S. businesses with 100 employees or more to require that their workers get vaccinated or be tested frequently for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, although his mandate is weeks away from being implemented and enforced.
In addition, Biden has ordered the U.S. armed forces to get vaccinated, along with the 2.5 million people in the federal civilian work force. However, there has been some opposition among service members and a lawsuit has been filed in an attempt to block the mandate for the federal bureaucracy.
Numerous large businesses and some municipal school districts have imposed their own vaccination or face mask mandates, often colliding with the no-mandate directives handed down by the Republican governors.
The governors have mostly been vaccinated themselves and told their constituents they should get inoculated to prevent the spread of the virus while still adamantly voicing their opposition to any kind of mandates, including those by large corporations headquartered in their states.
Nearly 188 million Americans out of a population of 332 million have been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly 9 million people also having gotten booster shots.
More than 716,000 people in the U.S. have died after contracting the virus over the last 19 months and nearly 90,000 new cases are being recorded daily, although both the number of new deaths and new cases have been receding now for a month.