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OPINION | BRENDA BLAGG: Hutchinson, others resist Biden's push using vaccine mandates

Governer, others resistent to mandate-oriented federal action by Brenda Blagg | September 15, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

President Joe Biden's latest initiatives against covid-19, including more vaccination mandates, were certain to trigger pushback.

As many as 100 million Americans are potentially affected, a lot of whom have at best resisted vaccination and at worst taken a hard line against what they consider a governmental overreach impacting their liberty.

The president last week announced a multi-faceted approach to get more Americans vaccinated.

He aimed his words directly at Americans who are not yet vaccinated.

"We've been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," he said.

This latest surge in covid-19 cases, most of them victims of the easier-to-spread delta variant, has been called by Biden and numerous health officials "a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

The unvaccinated make up most of the covid-19 patients currently filling hospital beds, requiring respirators and critical care -- and dying.

Arkansas and several other Southern states are among those with low vaccination rates. We've seen more than 475,000 cases since the pandemic began, including more than 7,300 deaths.

The good news is that the numbers of people getting the shots in Arkansas are up. They're just not nearly enough to protect the state's population from the virus.

The most vulnerable here, and everywhere, are the children under the age of 12 who are ineligible for any of the vaccines. That will change but not for at least a couple of months, when vaccines are expected to be approved for emergency use on younger children.

The Biden administration's vaccine mandates for many working Americans, testing requirements and more preventive strategies are intended to reach a lot of people through their jobs and through the schools.

Here are the major elements of Biden's latest action plan:

• An estimated 80 million workers for employers with more than 100 workers will be required to be vaccinated or to test for the virus weekly.

• Another 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid must be vaccinated.

• Millions more Americans, who are employees of the federal executive branch as well as contractors who do business with the federal government, also must be vaccinated and will have no option to test out of the requirement. Biden had already required American service members to be vaccinated.

Additionally, Biden is calling on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing for entry.

And the government is doubling federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face covering requirements on federal property.

As for the schools, the administration is encouraging all staff and eligible students to be vaccinated as well as urging various prevention strategies. Those include universal indoor masking, physical distancing, improving ventilation and performing regular screening testing for students and staff.

Administration guidelines say that the most important step parents can take is to get eligible children vaccinated and to make sure that ineligible children are surrounded by vaccinated people and that they mask in public indoor spaces, including their schools.

There's more to the plan and all of it is spelled out at

While the administration is using federal law and rule-making to force some compliance, other efforts will have to come through persuasion.

That's particularly true in schools, including those in states where governors and legislatures have banned simple masking requirements. But the federal government will help by backfilling salaries and other funding threatened to be withheld by states for schools implementing covid-19 safety measures.

That's where some of the greatest pushback originates, often with Republican governors saying they'll fight Democrat Biden's alleged overreach.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson doesn't like the latest mandates, contending they will impede efforts to persuade reluctant Arkansans to get vaccinated. But he hasn't been nearly so hostile as some of the other Republican governors.

Some of the rule-making is still in progress, but the primary venue for challenge, once the rules are in place, will be the courts. The White House is generally expected to prevail there.

That won't stop the political impact that will play out as prelude to the 2022 and 2024 elections.

The White House seems comfortable with that risk, too, particularly if the new action plan works to protect Americans -- and the nation's economy -- from this virus.

Print Headline: Biden's big push


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