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Millions of Americans working in companies with 100 or more employees will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4 or undergo weekly tests for the virus under government rules released Thursday.

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The new requirements are the boldest move by the Biden administration to persuade reluctant Americans to finally get a vaccine that has been widely available for months – or potentially face financial consequences. If successful, administration officials believe it would go a long way toward ending a pandemic that has killed more than 750,000 Americans.

First previewed by President Joe Biden in September, the requirements will apply to about 84 million workers in medium and large businesses, although it is unclear how many of those workers have not been vaccinated.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules will mandate companies to require that non-vaccinated workers test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week and wear masks at the workplace.

OSHA left open the possibility of expanding the requirement to small businesses. It asked for public comment on whether employers with fewer than 100 employees can handle vaccination or testing programs.

The stricter rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities receiving funding from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers would not have the option of testing – they would need to be vaccinated.

Workers will be able to demand exemption on medical or religious grounds.

The requirements will not apply to people who work at home or outside.

FILE – A health worker gives a dose of the Pfizer/Biontech COVID-19 vaccine to a woman at a vaccination center. (Photo by Dinendra Hariya / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Biden framed the issue as a simple choice between getting more people vaccinated or prolonging the pandemic.

“While I would very much prefer that the requirements were not essential, many people remain unconvinced of our way out of this pandemic,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Biden said his incentives to enforce mandates for businesses and his own previous requirements for military and federal contractors have helped reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans from 100 million at the end of July to about 60 million now .

Those measures have not led to mass shootings or labor shortages, he said, adding that vaccines are needed earlier to fight other diseases.

OSHA said companies that fail to comply with the rules could face penalties of about $14,000 per violation.

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The agency will face enforcement challenges. Even counting the help from the states, OSHA only has 1,850 inspectors to supervise 130 million workers at 8 million workplaces. An administration official said the agency would respond to whistleblower complaints and conduct a limited-stakes investigation.

The release of the rules followed weeks of regulatory review and meetings with business groups, labor unions and others.

OSHA drafted rules under emergency authorization to protect employees from an imminent health hazard. The agency estimated the vaccine mandate would save more than 6,500 workers’ lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations over the next six months.

The rules set up a potential legal battle along partisan lines between the states and the federal government. Several state and Republican governors threatened to sue, arguing that the administration does not have the power to create such broad mandates under emergency authorization.

OSHA’s parent agency, the Department of Labor, says it’s on solid legal footing. The department’s top legal officer, Seema Nanda, said the OSHA rules block conflicting state laws or orders, including those that bar employers from requiring vaccinations, tests or face masks.

Senate Republicans immediately launched a petition to vote to reverse the vaccine mandate, but with Democrats controlling the chamber, the effort is almost certain to fail.

NS rules Employees will be required to receive two doses of Pfizer or Moderna Vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine by January 4 or undergo weekly testing. Employees who test positive should be removed from the workplace.

related: Workers denied COVID-19 vaccine could be denied unemployment benefits

Companies will not be required to provide or pay for testing for unvaccinated workers, but they must give employees paid time off to receive shots and sick leave so they can recover from side effects that prevent them from working. . Paid time off requirements for masks and shots will be effective from December 5.

Employers covered by the requirements must verify the vaccination status of their workers by checking documents such as CDC vaccination cards or records from doctors or pharmacies.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a separate rule requiring vaccinations for workers in 76,000 health facilities and home health care providers that receive funding from government health programs. A senior administration official said several large private health care organizations implemented their own mandates and achieved high vaccination rates – 96% or more – without widespread resignation.

A previously announced requirement for federal contractors to ensure workers are vaccinated was due to take effect on December 8, but on Thursday the administration postponed that measure until January 4 to match the requirements of other large employers and health care providers. Gave. More than a dozen states have already sued for blocking the mandate on contractors.

For weeks, Biden has encouraged businesses not to wait for OSHA to act. He has touted businesses that announced their own vaccine requirements and urged other companies to follow his lead.

Administration officials say those efforts are paying off, with nearly 70% of the country’s adults now fully vaccinated.

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said in late July that it required all employees at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, and managers traveling within the United States to be vaccinated by October 4. The retailer reduced the need for shots to the frontline. workers, though.

United Airlines required 67,000 US employees to be vaccinated or face dismissal. Only a few hundred refused to do so, although about 2,000 are seeking a waiver.

In August, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 US employees that they should be vaccinated by November 1. On Thursday, the company said more than 96% of its employees had been vaccinated, including 60,500 after the August announcement.

However, some companies have expressed fears that some vaccine-hesitant workers may leave their workforce even thinner in an already tight labor market.

Several corporate groups supported the mandate, including the Business Roundtable. However, retail groups worry that the need could disrupt their operations during the critical Christmas shopping period. Retailers and others also said it could worsen supply chain disruptions.

The National Retail Federation suggested the new rules are not needed because the rolling average number of new daily cases in the US has fallen by more than half since September.

Still, the Biden administration has chosen to declare an ’emergency’ and impose new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season, said David French, a senior vice president at the trade group.

The number of new infections in the US is still falling from a summer surge caused by the highly infectious Delta variant, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent weeks. The 7-day moving average is down 6% from two weeks ago, with more than 76,000 new cases and 1,200 deaths per day.

An earlier mandate on federal contractors sparked protests by opponents, including workers at the NASA rocket engine test site in Mississippi. Some said they were immune because they contracted COVID-19. Others said the vaccines violated their religious beliefs and constitutional rights.

“No one should be forced to seek medical treatment in order to keep their job,” said Nayla Traumbach, an engineer at the site. “There’s years and years of experience and skill here, and I want anyone who is here to see what we stand to lose if these people don’t keep their jobs.”

related: Several states sued Biden administration over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal contractors

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Associated Press Writers Paul Wiseman in Washington, Tom Crischer and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit, Stacy Pleasance-Jenkins in Picayune, Mississippi, and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island contributed.