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Biden asks employers to take voluntary action against the omicron variant

The administration also urged employers not to delay preparations for the employee vaccine mandate, a sign the White House expects the historic measure to survive a court challenge.
Photograph: Shutterstock

President Biden asked restaurateurs and other private-sector employees on Thursday to counter the threat posed by the omicron variant of coronavirus by voluntarily stepping up their efforts to get employees vaccinated.

Specifically, the chief executive urged all businesses to provide paid time off for employees who want to get the vaccination shots or a booster but can’t afford to forgo a few hours of pay. About a third of the nation's workers are employed by a company that does not provide that benefit.

Similarly, Biden said that employees should also be compensated for the hours they need during worktime to get family members inoculated or to care for a child or relative who has an adverse reaction to the injections. About 35% of workers are worried about that tug-of-war between work and caring for a loved one, according to the Delaware Democrat.

The president also advised companies not to halt their preparations for getting all employees vaccinated as mandated by the emergency directive he issued on Sept. 9. Unless the measure is overturned or delayed by a federal court reviewing its constitutionality, all employers of at least 100 people will be required as of Jan. 4 to gather proof from each worker that they’ve either been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative for coronavirus. The White House estimated that about 60% of businesses are already preparing to abide by the mandate.

The comments came during Biden’s airing of his plan for averting a spike in new coronavirus infections over the winter. The strategy also calls for opening clinics where whole families could be vaccinated together and for a dramatic increase in home testing for the virus. The president has directed insurance companies to expand their coverage to include the cost of home tests that deliver results in an instant.

The steps are intended to help the nation avert a surge in COVID-19 cases triggered by coronavirus’ delta and omicron variants. The former has already proven more infectious than the so-called beta variant it supplanted as the pathogen’s most common form, and health officials say the number of mutations evident in the omicron strain suggest that it, too, might pass more easily from person to person.

The president cited an unexpected upside to fears that the omicron variant could prove more dangerous than earlier mutations.  Among the hardcore anti-vaxxers who’ve indicated they won’t get the shots under any circumstances, 30% have done an about-face and are now willing to roll up their sleeves, according to Biden. However, he declined to cite his source, saying the numbers had not yet been validated.

The restaurant industry is watching how the nation’s recovery from the pandemic might be affected by the omicron variant. The rapid spread of the delta mutant brought a dip in sales around mid-summer, and a spike in the beta coronavirus led to the re-shutdown of dining rooms in some areas in late 2020 and early 2021.

Already, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called on residents in his city to voluntarily don facemasks while dining out as a precaution against omicron. Denver recently implemented a vax-or-mask mandate, but in reaction to the delta strain.

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