Mandatory COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated civilian workers will begin this fall, according to the Pentagon. This is the government’s next step in fighting the disease following the requirement that troops receive the vaccine, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said Wednesday.
There are roughly 700,000 Department of Defense civilian employees, and Hicks said the department is adding stricter monitoring of its massive workforce. The Defense Secretary is also considering how to handle and manage contractors, in light of President Joe Biden’s announcement in July of his plan that aims to test all federal employees.
“We’re working closely across the department and with interagency colleagues on the right approach for our contractors who are present on a routine basis on defense installations to make sure we have the right strategy for them,” Hicks said during a virtual defense conference.
Civilian employees will be mandated to show an “attestation of testing,” which is simply proof of vaccination, or they must willingly undergo testing to monitor for the disease. Currently, COVID-19 is responsible the deaths of 436 people in the Defense Department.
According to reports from the department, more than half of the recorded deaths — 282 — were civilians. COVID-19 has killed 96 contractors and 40 service members.
310,669 employees are currently fully vaccinated. That means around half of the civilian workforce remains unvaccinated.
Other businesses, states and health care facilities across the country also have implemented required regular testing. With the Pentagon being the biggest federal agency and one of the largest civilian employers in the U.S., this mandate is significant.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered all active-duty troops to be vaccinated in July, and the military services are in the process of enacting that. The Pentagon has stated that the vaccine mandate is a lawful order and troops face repercussions for refusing, though it remains cloudy as to whether or not failure to do so would result in separation from military and actual judicial punishment.
Biden announced the federal employee testing requirement July 29th in an effort to ramp up lagging national vaccination rates as the Delta variant of the coronavirus first took hold.
“Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel,” the White House announcement said.