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Biden to lay out new strategy against the delta variant of COVID-19

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(WASHINGTON) — As COVID-19 case rates remain at a level not seen since before vaccines were widely available in the United States, President Joe Biden is set to deliver remarks Thursday on a new strategy to stop the spread of the contagious delta variant, White House officials confirmed Tuesday.

“On Thursday the president will speak to the American people about his robust plan to stop the spread of the delta variant and boost vaccinations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

In the remarks, “the president will lay out a six-pronged strategy,” involving both the public and private sectors, she added.

Biden has already made significant moves in requiring vaccines among public sector workers. He instituted a vaccine requirement for the nation’s 2.1 million federal employees, and the Department of Defense will require vaccination for 1.3 million active duty service members.

But realistically, Biden has limited legal authority to institute a broad vaccine mandate for most Americans.

“Yes, that’s — that’s true,” Psaki said Tuesday, confirming Biden’s hands are tied when it comes to a widespread mandate.

Psaki did seem to suggest that Biden will call on the private sector to institute more mandates. Major corporations such as Facebook, Google and Citigroup have already announced vaccination requirements.

“We don’t have any preview quite yet. I will note that we’ve seen that there are a range of ways that we have increased vaccinations across the country, or vaccinations have increased, I should say. One of them is private sector companies mandating in different capacities that their employees get vaccinated. Or certain school districts mandate,” Psaki said Tuesday.

Biden alluded to his plan to lay out his COVID-19 strategy in economic remarks Friday, focused on the disappointing August jobs report.

“There’s no question the delta variant is why today’s jobs report isn’t stronger. I know people were looking, and I was hoping, for a higher number. But next week, I’ll lay out the next steps that are going to — we’re going to need to combat the delta variant, to address some of those fears and concerns,” Biden said Friday.

Part of the strategy Biden referenced Friday is to ask states and local governments to consider using federal funding to extend unemployment benefits in hard-hit areas.

“I want to talk about how we’ll further protect our schools, our businesses, our economy, and our families from the threat of delta. As we continue to fight the delta variant, the American Rescue Plan we passed continues to support families, businesses, and communities. Even as some of the benefits that were provided are set to expire next week, states have the option to extend those benefits and the federal resources from the Rescue Plan to do so. Not more federal taxes, state taxes, but they have the federal money to be able to do that. States continue to have access to a wide array of support, like help for schools that are reopening, help for childcare centers to make them available and affordable, and other resources to help our economy get back to normal,” Biden said Friday.

But no states have indicated a plan to take Biden up on his proposal.

The remarks are scheduled for just 11 days before the administration is set to begin widely rolling out booster shots of Pfizer, a process that has been mired by confusion as some public health experts say the data doesn’t yet support the need for boosters, and as Moderna failed to meet the data reporting deadline to begin offering boosters the same day as Pfizer.

As children return to school for the fall semester, many in-person for the first time since the start of the pandemic, fears are rising that classrooms could host even more virus spread.

“We need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared,” Psaki said Tuesday.

The administration did announce one positive milestone Tuesday: at least 75% of adults in the U.S. have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the White House COVID-19 data director.

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