Maine’s congressional delegation was split over President Joe Biden’s plan to require most American workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine or face weekly testing, with Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Jared Golden criticizing the proposal.
The Democratic president announced Thursday that workers at companies with more than 100 people would be required to get the vaccine or submit to weekly virus testing. The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases have surged both across the U.S. and in Maine, while vaccination numbers continue to creep up only slowly.
The proposed mandate would cover about 169,000 private-sector workers in Maine. The majority of workers in that group have likely already been vaccinated, as more than 80 percent of eligible Mainers have received at least one vaccine dose, according to federal data. But Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate for health care workers has already faced vocal pushback here, leading the Democratic governor to extend the timeline for workers to get the vaccine.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation said they support vaccinations and encourage Mainers who have not yet received the vaccine to do so. But Collins, the delegation’s only Republican, said there were “difficult questions regarding feasibility and implementation” of the requirement that could put strain on health care providers and businesses.
“The federal government should not be dictating vaccine mandates and especially should not tie Medicare and Medicaid funding essential to the care of our seniors to vaccine mandates,” Collins said.
Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, characterized the mandate as abrupt and said he was worried about its effects on Maine’s already challenged labor market.
“While I personally think getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a good thing to do, I am generally skeptical of blanket mandates from the federal government,” Golden said.
But Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, responded favorably.
“The frustrating refusal of people to get their free vaccination has given COVID-19 new life and allowed the Delta variant to spread through our communities,” Pingree said.
King, who contracted COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated but recovered relatively quickly and credited the vaccine for keeping him from becoming severely ill, said he supported Biden’s efforts to “follow the science” and encouraged vaccinations as the delta variant tests hospital capacity and slows the nation’s economic recovery.
“I urge all unvaccinated Americans to look out for yourselves and your loved ones by getting the vaccine before the virus strikes,” he said. “It could save your life.”