The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is considering ordering federal employees to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Also under consideration are requirements for regular testing and wearing of face coverings or masks.
The possible actions would represent a major policy change as concerns grow about the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
A person who knows about the plans spoke to the Associated Press but asked not to be identified. The person said the possible official order, or mandate, for vaccination could be put in place even if an area does not have a high rate of transmission of the virus. Administration officials are expected to release their final decision this week.
The Office of Management and Budget says that in 2020 there were more than 4.2 million federal workers including those in the military.
Biden suggested on Tuesday that expanding a vaccination requirement to all federal workers was "under consideration." He offered no additional details. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to require vaccinations for its health workers.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, changed its guidelines for mask wearing. It recommended that all Americans living in areas with "substantial and high transmission" rates of COVID-19 should wear masks indoors whether they have been vaccinated or not.
Masks are now required at the White House again. And an assistant to Vice President Kamala Harris asked reporters to wear masks during Harris's meeting with Native American leaders on voting issues. The recent information from the CDC says that Washington, D.C. has a substantial transmission rate of COVID-19.
In addition to the White House, masks also are being required in the House of Representatives. The Capitol's Attending Physician Brian Monahan required masks for all individuals whether or not they had been vaccinated when entering rooms in the House area. Earlier rules that fined representatives can be put in place again, reports say.
In the Senate, however, masks are recommended but not required.
Biden dismissed concerns that the new mask guidance from the CDC would create confusion among Americans. He said people who remain unvaccinated are the ones causing problems.
After speaking to employees at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Tuesday, Biden said: "The more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned."
Some state and local governments, private companies and hospital administrators and universities have changed their rules in recent months. They are requiring masks and vaccinations.
About 60 percent of American adults have been fully vaccinated. Health officials say the most recent wave of coronavirus cases has hit communities with low rates of vaccination. The United States' average is currently over 50,000 cases a day.
The administration has so far avoided requiring its own employees to get vaccinated. News media reports say this is because the issue of getting or not getting the vaccine against the novel coronavirus has become a political dispute.
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.