Biden dithers on protecting workers from Covid

Candidate Biden ripped Trump for OSHA's negligence. President Biden committed on Day One to issuing an enforceable workplace health mandate. Now it may not happen.

President Joe Biden’s 100th day is fast approaching without the emergency temporary standard Biden promised to set legally enforceable rules to protect workers from Covid. Biden pledged to deliver the ETS during the campaign, and he attacked Trump for failing to do so. On his first day in office Biden issued an Executive Order setting the process in motion, giving the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration a March 15 deadline. Now it’s April 14—the 100-day mark is April 28—and OSHA’s ready to move. But Biden appears to have cold feet.

The Biden administration had no problem chiding governors for easing up on health mandates, warning that the Covid crisis isn’t over and that vaccinations alone won’t save the day. Biden himself called two governors “Neanderthals” for removing mask requirements. But OSHA’s Covid ETS is stalled at the White House because top officials there are wondering whether vaccinations alone might save the day after all. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh wants to move on the ETS, I’m told, but the matter is blocked at the White House—not at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where the ETS has yet to land for a two-week review, but higher up. If Biden’s at a loss for how to proceed, David Michaels, who was President Barack Obama’s OSHA chief, and Gregory R. Wagner, an adjunct professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, have a few ideas.

This is the subject of my latest New Republic piece, and it’s a scoop. The holdup has been reported, but not the White House’s uncertainty about whether it will issue any ETS at all. As I explain in my column, the growing resistance among governors that makes a new federal health mandate risky politically is also a powerful public-health reason to move forward on the ETS, because as the states’ political will fades the need will only grow for a show of political will by the feds.