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ReutersSports & General14 minutes ago (Oct 07, 2021 05:20AM ET)

© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One for travel to Michigan from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jarrett Renshaw and Alexandra Alper

(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden is set to visit Chicago on Thursday to meet with United Airlines’ chief executive and local Democratic leaders as he touts his decision to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates on employees of large firms, the White House said.

Biden last month ordered all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, with few exceptions, and for private employers with 100 or more workers to require employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly.

The move was controversial, spurring pushback from high profile Republican governors including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and South Carolina’s Henry McMaster who vowed to fight the administration’s move “to the gates of hell.”

But on Thursday, Biden plans to highlight what he considers local success stories, including a move by Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot to set an October deadline for all employees to be fully vaccinated, as well as Chicago-based United’s role as the first U.S. carrier to require immunizations.

“The President’s message will be clear: Vaccination requirements work,” the White House said in an emailed statement, previewing the visit. Such mandates “get more people vaccinated, helping to end the pandemic and strengthen the economy,” the statement added.

In addition to Lightfoot and United CEO Scott Kirby (NYSE:), Biden will be accompanied by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker who announced requirements in August for eligible students and school employees to be vaccinated.

Biden’s mandate announcement was a breaking-point moment as his administration struggled to control the pandemic, which has killed more than 692,000 Americans, as a large swath of the nation’s population refused to accept vaccinations that have been available for months.

The mandate, which the White House says will cover 100 million U.S. workers and applies to about two-thirds of all U.S. employees, is being written in part by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The surge of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has posed increased risk not just to the country but to a president who ran on promises to get control of the pandemic. Biden’s approval ratings have sagged since he said in July the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday that cases and hospitalizations have edged down on average over the last seven days but cautioned that deaths, a lagging indicator, are stable at 1,400 per day.

Biden will also visit a construction site in Elk Grove Village being built by construction firm Clayco, which plans to implement a system of vaccinations or testing for all its employees, the White House said.

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