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COVID-19 Vaccine Access Could Get Boost with New Executive Orders

COVID-19 Vaccine Access Could Get Boost with New Executive Orders

The fight against coronavirus will almost certainly look different in the coming days and weeks. During his first full day in office, President Joe Biden signed executive orders designed to increase COVID-19 vaccinations across the country. With this new approach in place, how soon can employers expect to safely return to the office?


Recap: Several New Executive Orders Signed by Biden to Fight COVID-19

On Jan. 21, 2021, President Biden signed several new executive orders related to the country’s ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. These presidential actions include (but are not limited to):

  1. Sustainable Public Health Supply Chain: This executive order uses the Defense Production Act to direct actions to increase vaccine production, expand COVID-19 testing, and boost PPE supplies. 
  2. Federal Property and Employee Mask Requirement: The Biden administration mandated that masks must be worn and social distancing efforts must be enforced on federal property and by federal employees. 
  3. Protecting Worker Health and Safety: This executive order will use the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to take action that protects employees from contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. This includes Biden directing OSHA to release new guidelines on workplace COVID-19 safety by Feb. 4, 2021. OSHA is also mandated with enforcing employee health and safety requirements as well as determining whether new temporary emergency safety standards need to be implemented in the workplace. These are required to be issued by March 15, 2021.
  4. Supporting the Reopening and Ongoing Operation of Schools: This executive order aims to provide support to safely reopen schools and early childhood education centers for in-person learning “as quickly as possible.” 
  5. Improving and Expanding Access to COVID-19 Care and Treatments: President Biden plans to expand access to COVID-19 treatment and new therapies. The president also issued actions to improve the country’s healthcare capacity to address the pandemic and will mobilize FEMA to operate federal vaccination centers. 

Other actions take a broader approach to fighting the pandemic. 

One executive order facilitates the cross-department collaboration between federal agencies to gather, share, and publish coronavirus-related data—ensuring the response moving forward relies on the most recent and relevant data. Another order addresses the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and other underserved populations. A different action promotes safe domestic and international travel.

Note: This page will be updated as more information becomes available and more relevant executive orders are issued.


How Could the New Executive Orders Help COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution?

While the issue at hand is complex, the plan is simple: vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible. And each presidential action could impact employers’ timetables for full-staff returns to the office. 

For example, by invoking the Defense Production Act—which authorizes the president to mandate that businesses produce certain products and supplies necessary to promote the national defense—the Biden administration hopes to revamp the healthcare supply chain. In effect, it prioritizes the production of the following: 

  1. Doses of the various approved COVID-19 vaccines
  2. Protective equipment for healthcare workers
  3. Extra testing capacity
  4. Other key resources

The ultimate goal is that by refocusing efforts in this part of the economy, 100 million people can be vaccinated within 100 days. For employers, this lofty target indicates that not only is there a light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s a plan to get there.


What Else Should Employers Know About Safely Returning to the Office?

HR and employers should watch for the new OSHA workplace guidelines, which are expected to be issued by Feb. 4, 2021. These could include significant changes to in-person safety requirements—possibly related to social distancing and mask-wearing in enclosed spaces. Each could impact your own team’s workplace safety plan

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