Maria Diaz receives her vaccine against COVID-19 at a 24-hour vaccination event in Austin at the Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex on March 6. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

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Companies with more than 100 employees will have to ensure their workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested weekly for the virus under new rules announced Thursday by the Biden administration that will affect around 80 million workers across the country.

The White House said “more vaccinations are needed to save lives, protect the economy, and accelerate the path out of the pandemic.”

Health workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid also must be fully vaccinated, which the White House said applies nationwide to more than 17 million workers at around 76,000 health care centers, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The White House said the new rules preempt any state and local laws, weakening Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates, employment lawyers said.

Abbott issued an executive order last month banning any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from requiring anyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The new Biden administration rule would void part of the ban, but it would still apply to everyone else in the state, including local governments, school districts and smaller businesses.

A spokesperson for Abbott did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Employers will not be required to pay or provide tests for workers, which will put more pressure on employees to get vaccinated in order to avoid inconvenient testing requirements.

“It’s onerous for employees,” said employment lawyer Karen Vladeck. “You have to pay for your own tests, which are very expensive, or you have to go in-person to get tested, which takes time.”

It was immediately unclear how many employees in Texas would be affected by the new rules.

The conflicting state and federal orders created confusion among businesses. Days after Abbott issued his order prohibiting vaccine mandates, companies that entered into contract work with the federal government were also required to have all employees vaccinated under orders from the White House.

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The conflicting vaccine mandates put the many Texas businesses that receive federal contracts in a tough position: Comply with federal law and violate Abbott’s ban, or comply with Abbott and turn down business from the federal government.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines said they would continue requiring employee vaccinations despite Abbott’s new order.

The Texas business community at large also pushed back against legislation stemming from Abbott’s order. The Texas bills intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees, were a priority of Abbott’s in the latest special legislative. But the bills failed to pass after business groups spoke out against the proposals and at least one key Republican lawmaker spoke out against one of the bills, calling it “anti-business.”

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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