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WASHINGTON (AP) — Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden is eagerly pushing to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after the Supreme Court halted the government’s sweeping vaccination or testing plan to the big employers.

At a time when hospitals are being overwhelmed and record numbers of people are becoming infected with the omicron variant, the administration is hoping that states and companies will mandate their own vaccination or testing requirements. And if the presidential “thug pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.

While some in the business community applauded the mandate’s defeat, Biden insisted the administration’s effort has not been in vain. Thursday’s high court ruling “does not prevent me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect the health and economy of Americans,” he said.

The court’s conservative majority nearly struck down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to get the coronavirus vaccine or weekly tests. However, it left in place a vaccination requirement for healthcare workers.

Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday that the federal website where Americans can request their own free COVID-19 tests will start accepting orders next Wednesday. Those tests could motivate some people to get vaccinated, and the administration is seeking to address shortages across the country. Supplies will be limited to just four free trials per House.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA apparently overstepped its congressional authority to implement occupational standards, saying, “Although COVID-19 is a hazard that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most.”

The mandate was announced last September, accompanied by scathing criticism from Biden for the estimated 80 million American adults who had not yet received vaccines.

“We have been patient. But our patience is wearing thin and his refusal has cost us all,” he said. The unvaccinated minority, he said, “can cause a lot of damage, and it is.”

In a statement following the Supreme Court ruling, Biden expressed disappointment with the outcome but said the mandates have already had the desired effect in reducing the number of unvaccinated adults.

“Today, that number has dropped to less than 35 million,” he said of the unvaccinated. “If my administration had not established the vaccination requirements, we would now be experiencing a higher number of deaths from COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations.”

While the court left open the possibility that the US would seek more specific mandates, White House officials said there were no immediate plans to seek a rewrite of the regulation.

“It is now up to states and individual employers to set vaccination requirements,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

The United States is already “languishing,” with a 60% vaccination rate, near the bottom of peer nations, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.

“OSHA’s rule was really the president’s last chance to significantly increase the vaccination rate,” Gostin said. But the court, “in a very partisan way, intentionally tried to handcuff the president to do what he had to do.”

Many large companies that had already established vaccination or testing requirements indicated they had no plans to reverse course. But smaller businesses said they were breathing a sigh of relief, fearing a shortage of workers if the OSHA rule had been allowed to go into effect.

The Supreme Court’s decision “has taken a little bit of the worry off of us,” said Kyle Caraway, director of marketing for Doolittle Trailer Manufacturing, which has joined a lawsuit by the Missouri attorney general challenging Biden’s policy. About 90% of the 175 employees at the Holts Summit, Missouri-based company had indicated they would refuse to comply with a vaccination requirement, he said.

“It became clear to us that our team would be massively reduced overnight if the vaccine mandate went into effect,” said Caraway, who is among those who oppose Biden’s policy. Halting production could have forced the company to “consider closing our doors,” he said.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers, said the court decision was a relief for healthcare workers but leaves others without critical protections.

“By blocking the vaccine or test rule for large employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at greater risk, caving in to corporations who are trying to rig the rules against workers permanently,” the union said. .

The union called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. Workers also need better access to testing and protective equipment, the union said.

The renewed debate over vaccination mandates comes as a record number of Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, the country is averaging nearly 800,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths per day, and vaccine resistance remains an issue, especially all in deeply conservative states like Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, where less than half the population is fully vaccinated.

Hospitals across the country are chronically understaffed and bombarded with people showing up at emergency rooms needing tests for the virus. National Guard troops have been activated in dozens of states to help at medical centers, nursing homes and testing sites.

A hospital on the edge of the Kansas City area had to borrow ventilators from Missouri state stockpiles and search for more high-flow oxygen machines, and Kansas’s largest county said Friday it is running out of room in the hospital. morgue, again.

Gostin predicted that the court’s action would have a major influence on other federal agencies’ efforts to protect public health, ruling that OSHA cannot regulate something that would have a large economic impact without explicit authorization from Congress. And he said states will not be able to offset the impact of the ruling.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us that states can’t deal with big, bold problems, they can’t stop a pathogen from going from Florida to New York,” he said. “These are national problems that require federal solutions.”

Psaki said the White House would work with businesses to promote the benefits of vaccination or testing requirements and Biden would highlight successful programs.

“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure,” Biden said. So, “I am calling on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up, including a third of Fortune 100 companies, in instituting vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers and communities. ”.

David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Lindsay Tanner in Chicago contributed.

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