President Biden says nursing homes must vaccinate workers against COVID-19

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced new efforts to use federal funding and enforcement powers to increase vaccination rates among nursing home staff and to stop governors from blocking mask mandates in schools.

The administration said nursing homes must vaccinate their staffs against COVID-19 if they want to continue receiving federal funding.

Biden noted the vaccination rate among nursing home workers lags the national vaccination rate.

In addition, Biden directed his education secretary to use "all oversight authorities and legal action" against governors who are preventing schools from requiring students to wear masks.

"We’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children," Biden said.

Eight states have laws or executive orders banning mask requirements in public schools.

Biden accused “some politicians” of trying to turn public safety measures into political disputes for their own political gain.

If a governor cuts the wages of a teacher in a school that requires students to wear a mask, federal funding can be used to pay their salary, he said.

Biden promised that he will “say a lot more about children and schools next week.”

President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug 18, 2021, on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program.
President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug 18, 2021, on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program.

While the administration has not imposed broad vaccination mandates, Biden has been ratcheting up such requirements. That started with the Department of Veterans Affairs announcing last month that it will require its health care professionals to be vaccinated.

Members of the U.S. military must get a dose of COVID-19 vaccine beginning Sept. 15.

In addition, all federal workers and contractors who are not vaccinated must be regularly tested, wear masks and social distance.

Biden said he is continuing to look for other federal tools available to increase protections against the virus as he urged private businesses to also step up.

"They should know I'll have your back as I have the back of states trying to do the right thing," he said.

The head of an association that represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and other care centers said Biden should not single out one provider group.

“Vaccination mandates for health care personnel should be applied to all health care settings,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. “Without this, nursing homes face a disastrous workforce challenge.”

The directive to nursing homes is not immediate. The Department of Health and Human Services will have to write regulations to require vaccinations as a condition of receiving reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

More: Tracking COVID-19 vaccine distribution by state: How many people have been vaccinated in the US?

Related: Got your COVID-19 vaccination pass? You can store it in your Samsung Galaxy and your iPhone

Genesis Healthcare, the largest private nursing-home chain in the U.S., previously announced it will require its workforces to get vaccinated. Some states have taken similar action.

But about 38% of nursing home staff are not vaccinated, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. About 82% of residents are.

Many of the recent outbreaks in facilities, driven by the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant, are in facilities located in areas that have low staff vaccination rates, according to CMS. Infections have risen from a low of 319 cases on June 27 to 2,696 cases on August 8.

Medicaid is the primary payer for nursing home care.

The new requirement would apply to more than 15,000 nursing home facilities, which employ approximately 1.3 million workers and serve approximately 1.6 million nursing home residents.

“Keeping nursing home residents and staff safe is our priority," CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement. "The data are clear that higher levels of staff vaccination are linked to fewer outbreaks among residents, many of whom are at an increased risk of infection, hospitalization, or death."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden: nursing homes must vaccinate workers against COVID

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