A day after his inauguration, President Biden issued a multi-faceted plan for addressing the ongoing pandemic, titled the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Preparedness. Among other things, the administration’s COVID-19 response strategy involves increasing access to testing, resolving PPE and vaccine supply shortfalls, pushing to identify and develop therapeutics for treating COVID-19, and accelerating vaccine distribution.
President Biden quickly signed a number of executive orders to begin implementing key aspects of his administration’s COVID-19 Response Plan. Here are four key developments that will impact business operations for many employers while the pandemic lasts.
1. Mask Mandate for Federal Workers and Federal Properties
President Biden has ordered all Federal departments and agencies to ensure compliance with CDC guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing. The mask mandate applies to all Federal employees, contractors, and persons while present in Federal buildings or on Federal lands.
2. Mask Mandate for Public Transportation
President Biden is also mandating masks for all travelers on public transportation, including airplanes, trains, buses and at airports. International travelers seeking to enter the country will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test and comply with other applicable CDC guidelines for international travelers.
3. Authorized Use of the Defense Production Act
Due to delays with the initial vaccine rollout and PPE shortfalls, President Biden has directed agencies to use the Defense Production Act to compel companies to make supplies needed to combat the pandemic. Pursuant to this order, companies could be required to prioritize and accelerate production of protective equipment like masks as well as supplies needed for administering COVID-19 tests and distributing the vaccine.
4. New OSHA Workplace Safety Guidelines
In an effort to provide enhanced protections to workers during the pendency of the pandemic, President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update safety recommendations for businesses within two weeks and issue stronger guidance regarding strategies to prevent COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. Notably, President Biden’s executive order asks OSHA to consider establishing emergency temporary standards, which businesses would have to comply with under threat of penalties. The executive order also directs OSHA to step up enforcement by targeting violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or otherwise violate anti-retaliation principals.
As the Biden Administration rolls out new requirements and provides updated guidance regarding COVID-19 safety measures, now is a good time for employers to revisit and reassess their COVID-19 workplace policies.