The Week in Business: A Ruling on Vaccine Mandates

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

What’s Up? (Jan. 9-15)

What’s Next for Vaccine Mandates

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s mandate for large employers that would have required workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Parts of the mandate were scheduled to take effect on Monday. The ruling does not affect state or city requirements for employers to mandate vaccines, including the one that recently went into effect in New York City. But without a federal rule, bans on employer vaccine mandates in states like Texas will remain in effect, and some businesses said that it would be more difficult to require vaccination for employees without the cover of a federal mandate.

Short on Oil

When demand for oil plunged during the first months of the pandemic, the world’s oil-producing countries agreed to dramatically cut production. Now, they’re having trouble ramping up again, repeatedly falling short of monthly targets. Production in the United States has also been slow to recover. Uncertainty about future demand as the pandemic continues its grip along with climate change concerns have made investment in new drilling scarce; with demand outpacing supply, oil prices have risen to seven-year highs. Forecasters are split on whether supply will catch up — and prices will fall — later this year.

Short on Covid Tests

Many Americans are having trouble finding rapid coronavirus tests. But for those who work at companies like Google, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase, access to free coronavirus tests is a new wellness perk. Two announcements last week aimed to level the playing field: The Biden administration plans to purchase 500 million more tests for Americans, in addition to the 500 million that it had already announced it would supply; and private insurance companies will be required to foot the bill for up to eight tests a month.

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

What’s Next? (Jan. 16-22)

Tallying Union Membership

The federal government on Thursday will release the number of Americans in unions last year. Despite staffing shortages that have given workers some leverage, and difficult working conditions that have added to labor unrest, union membership is unlikely to have grown much; the number of union elections last year remained low. But the labor movement has made progress in other ways. Since three Starbucks stores filed for union elections in August, at least 15 others nationwide followed, showing the potential of a strategy that builds momentum by focusing on small workplaces at high-profile companies.

A Messy Tax Season

Are you ready for tax season? The Internal Revenue Service is not. On Monday, it warned taxpayers that staffing shortages and paperwork backlogs would mean a lower level of service when Americans file their taxes from Jan. 24 to April 18 this year. The agency, which has had its budget and work force slashed in recent years, was charged with administering stimulus payments and other programs during the pandemic. That has helped create a backlog of at least 10 million unprocessed returns from last year, according to a report by the national taxpayer advocate released on Wednesday. The Biden administration has asked for an additional $80 billion over the next 10 years to bolster enforcement and customer service at the agency.

No Davos

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was scheduled to begin on Monday but was postponed last month because of coronavirus concerns. The absence of billionaires and world leaders in Davos highlighted the annual conference’s economic impact of on the city, as well as a divergence in how organizers of large events have reacted to the Omicron variant. While Davos and the Grammy Awards were postponed, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas went ahead with in–person events earlier this month.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know

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The latest Covid data in the U.S. As the Omicron surge caused case counts to reach record highs and hospitalizations to surpass last winter’s peak, here’s what the data suggests about the variant’s potential toll. Reports of falling infection rates in parts of the U.S., meanwhile, hint that a national peak may be approaching.

The U.S. Covid response. President Biden announced that the U.S. government would deploy military personnel to help overwhelmed hospitals and buy 500 million more tests for distribution to Americans, doubling its previous purchase. Americans will be able to order free rapid tests online beginning Jan. 19.

Around the world. Some European countries have changed their approach to the virus to more closely align with how they handle the flu. Public health experts say the shift might be premature. In China, virus outbreaks and Omicron’s arrival weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics underscored the challenges of holding the Games while sticking to a “zero Covid” policy.

Staying safe. Worried about spreading Covid? Keep yourself and others safe by following some basic guidance on when to test, which mask to pick and how to use at-home virus tests. Here is what to do if you test positive for the coronavirus.

What Else?

President Biden nominated three new Federal Reserve officials. Airlines continued to struggle with staffing shortages. Bank of America cut its overdraft fees. And the Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who earlier this month was found guilty on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, will be sentenced on Sept. 26.

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