Amid the spread of the most contagious coronavirus variant yet, major decisions by conservative politicians and judges at the federal and state levels are making it virtually impossible for public health authorities to contain the virus and keep the public safe. This ideological zealotry will cost lives.
The U.S. Supreme Court on blocked the Biden administration’s effort to impose a vaccine mandate in workplaces, which would have dramatically boosted vaccination rates and defused key super-spreader situations. In places premature back-to-normal policies make no special sick-leave provisions for infected state workers, incentivizing them to bring the contagion into the office. It’s as if conservatives are trying to ensure the coronavirus thrives.
President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for major employers was flexible to the point of drawing criticism from medical experts for not being strong enough. Employees who didn’t want to vaccinate had the option of regular testing instead, and there was a religious opt-out.
Yet the court’s six conservatives struck it down as being outside the power of the federal government — this despite the fact that the mandate was promulgated under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency whose entire congressionally approved mission is to ensure safety in the workplace. Under what twisted reinterpretation of conservatism is an agency with that particular function not allowed to address a virus that has killed more than 800,000 Americans to date and has been spread largely through workplaces?
The real-world effect of the ruling will be to further the spread of the virus while putting large employers even more in the crosshairs of the culture wars than they already are. Employers who, for sound business reasons, want vaccination mandates for their workforces will have a difficult time imposing their own such rules now in the face of employee pushback and, in some red states, actual mandate prohibitions.
In Missouri, meanwhile, Gov. Mike Parson’s determination to declare the crisis over and move on puts state employees in a pandemic box. The state’s current policy requires workers who test positive to quarantine at home, burning their regular sick days or losing pay. That provides a strong incentive for the infected to hide their infections and return to the office, furthering the spread.
No wonder hospitals in Missouri and around the country are overwhelmed. But thanks to a separate Supreme Court ruling, at least health care workers in facilities that get federal funding now must abide by vaccine mandates — though even that no-brainer squeaked by on a 5-4 vote.
With astonishing nerve, leading Republicans are actually blaming Biden for the latest viral surge, even as they undermine commonsense pandemic policies in the name of “freedom.” In reality, they’re protecting the freedom of a deadly virus to spread.