Biden wants U.S. agencies to mandate COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees by Feb 15

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the authorization of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

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WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) - The Biden administration said on Tuesday that federal agencies should require weekly COVID-19 testing by Feb. 15 for unvaccinated government employees who are working on-site or interacting with the public.

A vaccine mandate imposed by President Joe Biden in September covers about 3.5 million federal workers and required them to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22 or face potential discipline or even termination.

The administration said on Tuesday that unvaccinated employees - including those seeking religious or medical exemptions - "should be tested weekly for any week during which they work on-site or interact in person with members of the public as part of their job duties. Agencies may require more frequent testing."

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The rules do not apply to federal workers who are working remotely.

As of Dec. 8, the U.S. government said it has achieved 97.2% compliance, with 92.5% of employees having received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The White House Office and Management and Budget (OMB) last month encouraged federal agencies not to issue discipline beyond education and counseling or a letter of reprimand for most employees who had not complied until January. OMB did not immediately comment on how many U.S. employees have been disciplined for failing to comply with the rules.

Biden's vaccine mandate does not cover federal employees in the judicial and legislative branches or workers in the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

USPS is covered by a vaccine or testing mandate for companies with 100 or more employees, but has asked for a delay in meeting those requirements.

The administration said on Tuesday that federal agencies may impose disciplinary measures on workers who refuse to get tested, and may also bar employees from agency workplaces pending resolution of any disciplinary action.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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