President Joseph Biden announced his improved strategy for the pandemic on September 9, 2021, outlining a method that primarily focuses on trying to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans.
The new plan came at the right time. The delta variant continues to spread across the states of the United States. The virus currently claims more than 1,500 lives a day, and there are now more children newly admitted to the hospital than in any other period during the pandemic. In states with low vaccination rates, concerns are particularly serious. Because people stay at home to avoid contracting the virus, the high transmission rate also hurts the economic recovery.
Therefore, the policy aimed at getting people vaccinated makes sense-vaccination is an effective method to protect people from hospitalization and death due to coronavirus infection.
To encourage vaccination, the President requires employees of companies with more than 100 employees to be vaccinated or tested for the virus every week. His new plan also includes strengthening the production of rapid testing and making it available to Medicaid recipients for free or at cost through retailers such as Wal-Mart and Amazon.
As the leader of a team of health policy researchers tracking the policy response to COVID-19, we know that there is no perfect way to prevent the virus. Encouragingly, the government acknowledges that more needs to be done — the measures outlined by the president may encourage vaccination. But we believe that they will play a better role if they are supplemented by further actions—whether at the federal or state level—to protect vulnerable groups through stricter mask regulations and improved vaccination.
We are also concerned that the main policy of mandatory workplace vaccinations may have limited impact on low-income communities, as many workers there are independent contractors such as odd jobs and agricultural workers. Analysis shows that unvaccinated rates in these communities tend to be higher.
No federal mask policy
Biden’s plan will continue to require the use of masks on interstate transportation and federal property, and if not comply, the fine will be doubled. But it did not call for a universal mask policy.
Although the internal documents of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists clearly stated that “universal masks are essential to reduce transmission.”
A stronger mask policy will particularly help to immediately reduce the spread of delta variants, especially in high-risk indoor spaces and children who are not eligible for vaccination. In just four weeks, the rate of child hospitalization in the United States has risen from a record low to a record high—and continues to rise.
Wearing masks can reduce community transmission, thereby allowing more time to strengthen vaccine delivery and information transmission.
The data-driven mask task method will complement Biden’s measures on the road to escape the pandemic. This policy has been used well in Nevada, where the mask requirement takes effect in counties with high infection rates and then cancels when cases fall below a certain level.
Vaccine authorization may still miss people
The government’s plan includes mandatory vaccination for federal employees and health care workers in Medicaid and Medicare service hospitals. The government also asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop a rule requiring these employers to provide paid leave for vaccination and rehabilitation.
Although many federal employees, health care workers, and high-income workers have been vaccinated, even a small increase may have an impact, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
The new vaccine regulations are unlikely to benefit low-income workers, many of whom are considered independent contractors or work in small restaurants or other businesses and therefore will not be covered.
Studies have shown that vaccination rates in low-income communities tend to be lower. This may be because lower-income workers focus on meeting other needs, such as family food, housing, and childcare, because they work more than one job and have less time, or cannot afford unpaid leave to gain opportunities.
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The delta variant continues to spread rapidly in the United States, and state leaders can play an important role in accelerating vaccine delivery in schools, communities, and workplaces. Efforts to target low-income communities and workers where vaccination rates are still the lowest are more likely to produce better results. The mask policy can slow the spread of COVID-19 until more adults and children can be vaccinated.
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