Federal workers in Washington and some other cities Wednesday began wearing masks again at work amid a spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Government employees are expected to be told Thursday that they will need to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing for the virus.
“While no decision has been finalized, I will say that the attestation of vaccination for federal employees is one option under strong consideration,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters Wednesday on Air Force One during a brief flight to Pennsylvania from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
Asked about the pending vaccination mandate as he left the aircraft, President Joe Biden said he would talk about coronavirus-related matters Thursday.
Signs began appearing Thursday in federal buildings, including in the White House briefing room, requesting that even the vaccinated wear masks.
"In areas of substantial or high community transmission, agencies must require all federal employees, onsite contractors and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside of federal buildings,” the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday evening in an email to agencies. “As of today, that includes the Washington, D.C., area.”
Masks also are being mandated in the House of Representatives. The Capitol’s attending physician took action following Tuesday’s recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that even those who are vaccinated must wear masks indoors in public settings in areas with a current substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus.
The Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, objected, stating that the physician’s mandate for masks “is not a decision based on science.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked Wednesday by a reporter about McCarthy’s reaction, replied, “He’s such a moron.”
The Republican Party has been “delinquent” in embracing science about masks and vaccines amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pelosi later told reporters during a scheduled regular briefing on Capitol Hill.
White House officials, speaking on condition of not being named, said the administration as soon as Thursday could announce that government staff will have to show proof of being fully vaccinated to avoid regular coronavirus testing.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs about 1,400 medical facilities in the United States, on Monday became the first federal agency to require vaccinations for its health care work force.
The department said nearly 150 of its workers had died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, announced Wednesday that all state employees – a work force totaling tens of thousands of people – must be vaccinated by Labor Day, September 6.
"It's smart, it's fair and it's in everyone's interest," said Cuomo.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a similar announcement Monday regarding his 300,000 employees.
New York became the second state after California to impose such a rule for its government workers.
California’s order, which Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday, covers not only the 246,000 workers on the state payroll but also about 2 million health care workers in both the public and private sectors.
New cases in the United States have risen fourfold over the last month. The U.S. has the largest number of infections in the world, with more than 34.6 million confirmed cases and 611,000 deaths, according to information from Johns Hopkins University.