(Reuters) -The Biden administration asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday to lift a court-ordered stay on a sweeping workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule to avoid serious harm to public health, or alternatively to allow a masking-and-testing requirement.
Delaying the rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that requires employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly would lead to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, the administration said in a filing with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The White House asked for the rule to be reinstated immediately, but the court set a briefing schedule that runs through Dec. 10.
The administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has issued several rules aimed at encouraging vaccinations, although OSHA’s Nov. 5 standard is the most far-reaching.
The OSHA rule requires businesses with at least 100 employees, covering tens of millions of American workers, to comply by Jan. 4.
Although 82% of U.S. adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose, requiring shots against COVID-19 has become a divisive political issue over trade-offs between civil liberty and public health.
The rule was challenged by Republican-led states, businesses and trade groups, and it was quickly blocked by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which called it “staggeringly overbroad” and a “one-size-fits-all sledgehammer.”
After the stay was imposed, lawsuits from across the country were transferred to the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati.
That has given the Biden administration an opportunity to ask for the 5th Circuit ruling to be reviewed.
The administration said in its filing that if the ruling remained, it should at least be modified to allow the masking-and-testing requirement.
A modified stay would also shield employers from state and local laws banning vaccine and mask mandates, the administration said.
Florida is among the states that have banned businesses from requiring vaccination against COVID-19.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)