Supreme Court blocks COVID vaccine mandate for large employers

Today the US Supreme Court, on a 6-3 vote, blocked a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that would have affected one in three American workers while leaving in place a requirement for healthcare workers.

The requirement set forth late last year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would have required vaccines for businesses with 100 or more employees, but the Supreme Court said the mandate lacked historical precedent, and that OSHA acted too broadly in setting forth the requirement.

President Joe Biden had announced the OSHA mandate in September, after a summer of underwhelming vaccination numbers.

"The Supreme Court's decision on the OSHA mandate is a major setback to President Biden's COVID strategy and will prolong the pandemic in the United States," said Lawrence Gostin, JD, the faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Georgetown University Law Center, in a press statement.

"The OSHA employer mandate was the single most effective policy for getting people vaccinated. Without a wide-reaching federal mandate, it's unlikely the national vaccination rate of just over 60% will improve. We are way behind our peer nations."

The Court voted 5 to 4 to allow a vaccine mandate for workers at federally funded healthcare facilities to take effect nationwide. That decision affects 17 million American workers.

Order increased to 1 billion tests

Also today, Biden said he was buying another 500 million COVID-19 at-home tests to be distributed to Americans over the coming weeks, bringing the total of free tests to 1 billion. Beginning next week, Americans should be able to submit an order for tests on a government website, the president said.

Biden made the announcement during a briefing where he also hinted that free high-quality masks will also be distributed next week, as the nation prepares to see soaring daily case counts of COVID-19 due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

"I know we are all frustrated as we enter this new year," the president said. "I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks. I get it. But they are a really important tool to stop the spread."

Despite the wide availability of three vaccines, Americans continue to have the highest case and death rates in the world, nearly 2 years into the pandemic.

Biden urged Americans to vaccinate if they have not done so yet, adding that although vaccinated Americans are getting breakthrough cases of Omicron, they are more likely to have asymptomatic or mild illnesses.

Military medical staff deployed to 6 states

Today the president also confirmed the federal government is deploying medical teams to six states—New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New Mexico—that are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

Biden said the teams consist of 120 military medical personnel, and they join the more than 800 military personnel already deployed to 24 states since November to help with overburdened hospitals.

Nineteen states have less than 15% capacity remaining in their intensive care units, and 4 have less than 10%, according to a CNN analysis of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data. The HHS Protect Data Hub shows that 155,935 inpatient beds are in use for COVID-19.

The United States reported 894,971 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 2,421 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

In total, the nation has recorded 63,744,198 cases, including 845,899 deaths.

Pregnant women urged to get vaccinated

At least 161 pregnant women in the United States have died from COVID-19, and yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued strongly worded guidance on vaccines in this population. The CDC said it "strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks."

According to the CDC, only 31% of pregnant women in the country are fully vaccinated against the virus. In related news, more than 2 months after COVID-19 vaccines were made available to 5- to 11-year-olds in the country, just 17% are fully vaccinated, the Associated Press reports. 

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that 62.7% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 74.6% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 37% of vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.

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