Nov 8, 2021 - Podcasts

The brewing culture war over vaccine mandates

Over the weekend, a federal appeals court temporarily suspended enforcement of President Biden’s vaccine mandate for private employers. This came shortly after the Biden administration set Jan. 4 as the deadline for companies with more than 100 workers to get their employees vaccinated or start regular testing.

  • Plus, Houston authorities investigate that deadly surge at the Astroworld music festival.
  • And, the infrastructure bill spends billions on broadband.

Guests: The Houston Chronicle's Joey Guerra, Axios' Tina Reed and Margaret Harding McGill.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Erica Pandey, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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ERICA PANDEY: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, November 8th. I’m Erica Pandey filling in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Houston authorities investigate that deadly surge at the Astroworld music festival. Plus, the infrastructure bill spends billions on broadband.

But first, the brewing culture war over vaccine mandates is today’s One Big Thing.

Over the weekend, a federal appeals court temporarily suspended enforcement of President Biden's vaccine mandate for private employers. This came shortly after the Biden administration set January 4th as the deadline for companies with more than a hundred workers to get their employees vaccinated or start regular testing. Axios healthcare editor Tina Reed is here with us on why this fight could get even uglier now. Hey, Tina.

TINA REED: Hi Erica.

ERICA: So Tina, have we reached a tipping point with vaccine mandates finally here. Who is pushing back?

TINA: So, this is obviously already been a really big fight in America. But with this actual deadline, this has sparked a number of different lawsuits, 15, uh, so far from the states led by GOP governors. But it has even sparked some criticism from Kansas’ governor who is a Democrat. So we're definitely seeing some, some real strong pushback. And I would expect to see more in the coming weeks.

ERICA: And what about celebrities? I mean, Aaron Rodgers is, is, is getting involved here too, right?

TINA: So Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers was asked in the beginning of the season if he was vaccinated, he had responded, I am “immunized,” quote unquote. Well, he's kind of become this big, you know, foil for the employee vaccination mandates. Uh, but this all kind of goes back to this bigger question of: What are employers required to do in order to keep employees safe? And how are employees ultimately going to respond to that?

ERICA: So -- the Biden administration's mandate applies to companies with more than a hundred workers. We're talking about two thirds of the workforce here. How is this playing out in different sectors?

TINA: So there's been many large employers, such as Disney, Citigroup, AT&T, United Airlines, that have had their own vaccine requirements and they say compliance has been high. We've also seen a little bit of pushback in certain areas, where vaccine hesitancy is high. But we've still seen ultimately, that makes it a very small number of the workforce. So, a lot of people would say mandates are working. However, not everybody is impacted equally. And so we have seen pushback from certain segments of the industry and certain regions of the country where companies are going to get hit harder.

ERICA: So we've got that January 4th deadline coming up, but some states have had deadlines for vaccination come and go already. Are workers that don't get vaccinated actually getting laid off in these cases?

TINA: We are seeing that, in some cases, people are losing their jobs or choosing to leave. Um, we are also seeing a number of places that have extended deadlines, or they have really tried to work with workers to figure out what their concerns are, their hesitancies are and work with them to try and figure out how they can get them vaccinated, and entertaining, um, medical and religious exemptions. I've heard a little bit more liberally than perhaps they have with previous vaccination mandates. So people are losing their jobs, but employers are doing a lot to make sure that they don't leave.

ERICA: Tina, what should we watch for between now and January 4th?

TINA: So there's another federal requirement coming up on November 22nd, which addresses thousands of federal workers. And I also think we should be watching what happens at Thanksgiving if we're talking about cultural wars. That's where it's going to play out -- is over our Thanksgiving tables. So I would say ... watch out. [laughs]

ERICA: Tina Reed is Axios’ healthcare editor and author of the Axios Vitals newsletter. Thanks Tina.

TINA: Thank you, Erica.

ERICA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with what we do and don’t know about Friday night’s deadly music festival.

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ERICA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Erica Pandey. Authorities in Houston have launched a criminal investigation into Friday's deadly crowd surge at the Astroworld Music Festival. At least eight people were killed and dozens more were injured after thousands of concert-goers pushed towards the stage where rapper Travis Scott was performing. Joey Guerra was at the festival Friday night. He's also a music critic at the Houston Chronicle and joins us now. Joey, thanks for being here.

JOEY GUERRA: Thank you so much.

ERICA: So Joey, what have we learned in the last few days about what happened Friday night? Do we know who's responsible for this tragedy?

JOEY: I think that's one of the questions that, you know, is going to take a long time to truly answer. There have been a lot of rumors, a lot of accusations, you know, this was a huge crowd, 50,000 people in total. I think throughout the day, which was supposed to go into the next day that got canceled, the process to get in was very streamlined this year. It was a lot easier.

There was a lot of security. There was a lot more open space. Travis Scott's crowds are known to be big and aggressive and rowdy. So, you know, they had to know given his history that this was going to happen. So I think they were prepared.

I mean, According to the police chief here in town, you know, 300 police on the grounds and, you know, over 200 security guards. So there was a big presence. I think it's just the way this happened and where it happened specifically, which was, you know, right in the front, in the thick of everything. It was really hard for anybody to get there quickly. It just created, I think a very unique, unfortunate situation where nobody really knew what was going on unless they were part of what was happening.

ERICA: What about the headliner of the festival Travis Scott, how has he responded?

JOEY: Travis posted a black and white video on his Instagram stories saying that, you know, he always sets out to give his fans a positive experience and that if he sees anybody in distress, he will always stop and help them out. And that he wasn't aware, you know, and that he is working with authorities, cooperating with authorities.

ERICA: And what about the organizers of the festival? Have they responded?

JOEY: Live Nation who put together this festival who's put it together in the past has not responded. I know the Chronicle has reached out to them, but we've heard nothing from them as of yet.

ERICA: And you said you were there Friday night. This was your first big show since, since COVID as a music critic. As someone who goes to so many of these concerts, how are you processing the events of that night?

JOEY: It's really difficult because when I kind of stopped for a moment and think about it, it doesn't feel real. I mean, I didn't know this was happening or that this had happened until I got home that night and was starting to write. That's when I found out that this whole thing.

ERICA: Joey Guerra is a music critic for the Houston Chronicle. Thanks Joey.

JOEY: Thank you so much.

ERICA: The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is finally headed to President Biden's desk. One slice of it is the $65 billion allotted for high speed internet access and affordability, Axios technology reporter Margaret McGill has been tracking this issue and is with us now. Hey Margaret!

MARGARET MCGILL: Hey, Erica. Thanks for having me.

ERICA: So Margaret, is this a big deal? Is this a lot of money for broadband access and where's it going?

MARGARET: The government has been putting money toward building out broadband here and there for decades. But I think that the $65 billion is the biggest investment that I can think of in recent memory. And the Biden administration really thinks that this is what it's going to take to get close to a hundred percent connected. Uh, this money is going to cover basically building out high-speed internet networks and also helping people afford paying for service. So they’re going to get a big chunk of it, 42.45 billion will go to grants to states. And they can kind of determine what's the best use of that money, whether that's building out networks, doing better data collection, even helping out on the affordability side. So the states have a lot of flexibility in how they want to spend this money. But then there's also another 14.2 billion, that's going to kind of top up a new program that began during the pandemic, which provides low-income Americans with basically like a discount on their monthly internet bill.

ERICA: And, and your reporting has shown that the pandemic made internet access even more crucial than before. Do we know how many people are still struggling with their connection right now?

MARGARET: The Biden administration estimates that there are 30 million that don't have the access that they need, to, uh, participate in basically daily life online. Um, I know from a national nonprofit, they estimated that 18 million households don't have broadband because they can't afford it. And the thing about the digital divide that you have to remember is it's both an issue of having access to the physical infrastructure, so in some rural areas where you don't even have an internet provider, but then also making sure that people who have access can actually afford the service. So there are different types of digital divide and this bill is meant to address both of those.

ERICA: Margaret McGill is a technology reporter for Axios. Thanks for joining me, Margaret.

MARGARET: Thank you for having me, Erica. I appreciate it.

ERICA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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