Aug. 18 (UPI) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday directed the Department of Education to take action against state bans on mask mandates while also issuing a mandate for nursing home workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Biden announced the two steps as COVID-19 infections surged throughout the nation, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a seven-day moving average of 130,121 new cases as of Tuesday.
Wednesday’s order directs Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools” to ensure governors and other officials take the necessary steps to safely prepare students to return to school “including not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations.”
“Our priority must be the safety of students, families, educators and staff in our school communities,” the order states. “Nothing should interfere with this goal.”
The order comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued executive orders barring school districts from requiring students to wear masks on campus while threatening penalties such as cutting or withholding funding to pay for school officials.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Biden said that governors standing in the way of school districts setting their own safety measures were “setting a dangerous tone.”
“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” he said.
The president said his order authorizes Cardona to use “all of his oversight authorities and legal actions, if appropriate,” against governors who impose such restrictions.
In further efforts to combat the spread of the virus, Biden also announced the Department of Health and Human Services would develop new regulations requiring nursing home workers who treat patients on Medicare or Medicaid to get vaccinated.
The White House said the regulations will apply to nearly 15,000 nursing home facilities that employ 1.6 million workers and serve 1.3 million residents.
“With this announcement, I’m using the power of the federal government, as a payer of healthcare costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors,” Biden said. “These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm’s way.”
Last month, Biden mandated vaccines for all federal government workers and contractors, and the departments of Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, as well as the U.S. military, have announced plans for vaccination requirements.
According to the CDC, 51% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while 60% has received at least one dose, while 61.9% of adults have completed their vaccine sequence and 72.3% have at least begun.