President Joe Biden visited a northwest Chicago suburb on Thursday to call for more vaccine mandates, particularly from major employers.
The president arrived at O'Hare International Airport during the afternoon before traveling to Elk Grove Village, kicking off a trip that was originally intended to take place last week but was ultimately postponed.
In Elk Grove Village, Biden visited a construction site being built by Clayco, one of the largest construction companies in the Midwest. The company is taking action weeks ahead of a forthcoming rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that will require all employers with more than 100 employees to require that their staffs be vaccinated or face weekly testing for the coronavirus.
Speaking from the site, Biden encouraged other businesses to follow suit, by taking action ahead of the OSHA rule and to go even further by requiring shots for their employees without offering a test-out option.
"Today, I'm calling on more employers to act. My message is require your employees to get vaccinated," Biden said. "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, empty restaurants, and much less commerce. Look, I know the vaccination requirements are a tough medicine - unpopular with some, politics for others. But they're life-saving and game-changing for our country."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker greeted the president at O'Hare Airport, then traveled with him to Elk Grove Village, where they also spoke.
Lightfoot and Pritzker have both praised area businesses requiring vaccinations for customers and employees in both the city and state, though they have stopped short of issuing mandates citywide or statewide. Certain groups are required to get vaccinated in the state, however, including health care workers, teachers and higher education students.
"I applaud those venues requiring vaccination proof or a negative test to get admittance," Lightfoot said in September. "I think we'll see more of that. This is a conversation happening across every industry sector, and we support it.”
As of Thursday, 62.8% of Illinois' 12 and older population have been fully vaccinated and 80.3% have received at least one shot. In Chicago, 73.6% of those 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
New York City, San Francisco and New Orleans are among the cities that have started requiring proof of vaccination for public indoor spaces. This week, Los Angeles city leaders adopted one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates, a sweeping measure requiring the shots for everyone entering a bar, restaurant, nail salon, gym or basketball game at Staples Center.
During his visit, Biden was also slated to meet with United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. The Chicago-based airline has one of the strictest vaccine mandate policies of any U.S. airline, with no testing option for employees.
Biden's Chicago trip comes as the White House releases a new report stating vaccine requirements are helping to drive up vaccination rates across the country.
"Vaccination requirements work. Vaccination requirements get more people vaccinated, helping to end the pandemic and strengthen the economy," the White House said in a statement. "That’s why [Biden is] leading on implementing vaccination requirements for 100 million workers – two-thirds of all workers in the U.S. And that’s why we’re seeing growing momentum for vaccination requirements across sectors and across the country."
The president had been slated to visit the city last Wednesday, but the trip was canceled one day before his scheduled visit as negotiations over key legislation were underway.
Biden last month unveiled a so-called “action plan" aimed at confronting the COVID-19 surge being driven by the spread of the delta variant, which will require vaccinations for millions of workers across the country.
The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.
Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.