ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — President Joe Biden made the case for Covid vaccination mandates and urged more companies to require their employees to get vaccinated as the White House tries to get back on the offense over Biden's handling of the pandemic.
"I'm calling more employers to act," Biden said. "My message is require your employees to get vaccinated. With vaccinations we're going to beat this pandemic finally. Without them we face endless months of chaos in our hospitals, damage to our economy and anxiety in our schools and empty restaurants and much less commerce."
Biden announced a mandate last month requiring companies with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workforces are vaccinated or regularly tested. While the Labor Department is weeks away from releasing details of the emergency rule, Biden called on companies to act now and not to wait for the requirement to go into effect.
Biden said he recently called a Pennsylvania hospital because a friend was struggling to get an ill partner seen by a physician in the emergency room because it was filled with Covid patients.
"Because I knew this person, I called the desk, the receiving nurse, and asked what the situation was, and I wasn't complaining, because they're getting the living hell kicked out of them," Biden said. The person was eventually treated, he said, but "it took a while" because "the vast majority of the emergency room docs were occupied taking care of Covid patients."
Following a surge in cases over the summer that overwhelmed hospitals and led to the return of mask mandates in many places, Biden's approval rating has slid, particularly over his handling of the pandemic — an issue top White House officials have said they felt would be the one he would be judged on most.
A Quinnipiac University poll Wednesday found Biden's approval rating at just 38 percent, with just 48 percent approving of his handling of the pandemic, his strongest area in the poll, and 50 percent disapproving. That compares to a 65 percent approval rating on the pandemic in May.
Despite the Biden administration's heavy push to get people vaccinated, more than 200,000 have died from Covid since Biden took office, the overwhelming majority of whom were unvaccinated.
"We have a plan. We have the tools. We're using them. We're making progress. We just have to finish the job, finish the job. So for God's sake, for your own sake, for the sake of your families, get vaccinated," he said.
At the stop in Elk Grove Village, just outside Chicago, Biden sought to shine a spotlight on businesses that have require vaccinations and the success they are having in lowering case rates and boosting economic productivity. The owner of Clayco, the construction company he visited, was a top bundler of donations for Biden's campaign.
Even before Biden's vaccination mandate goes into effect, 3,500 organizations have already imposed requirements on their own — including educational institutions and hospitals — the White House said in a report Thursday. About 1 in 4 companies in the U.S. require vaccinations, according to the report, which said the numbers increased "sharply" after Biden announced the rule.
IBM this week became the latest major company to announce that all U.S. employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 or face unpaid suspensions.
The White House report found that vaccination requirements increased the rate of vaccinations at organizations by an average of 20 percentage points, to more than 90 percent. The report also makes an economic argument for vaccination requirements, citing a Goldman Sachs analysis that said higher vaccination rates would encourage as many as 5 million workers to return to the labor force. A chart in the report showed that restaurant reservations made through OpenTable were higher in states with greater vaccination rates.
The event also follows a push by the White House to make Covid testing more accessible ahead of what some public health officials fear could be another wave of cases in the winter. The White House announced Wednesday that it would spend $1 billion on at-home Covid tests to be distributed to community health clinics, food banks and schools.