The Equal Employment Opportunity

As President Joe Biden on Wednesday prepared to depart for his first foreign trip since assuming office — a week-long tour of western Europe during which he will engage both American allies and adversaries — the commander in chief came into contact with an emergent domestic rival on the tarmac of Joint Base Andrews.

Chatting with a uniformed military officer before boarding Air Force One, en route to a Royal Air Force station in England, the president could be seen swatting a sizable insect from his neck. Biden’s gesture interrupted his conversation with the service member as both men diverted their gazes to the ground, where the bug had apparently landed.

The president proceeded to flash a wave to reporters before strolling over to the assembled press pool with a warning: “Watch out for the cicadas.”

The episode marked the second time in less than 24 hours that the loud, red-eyed pest had intruded upon White House operations in the run-up to Biden’s European travel. On Tuesday night, the charter plane meant to carry the press corps for the president’s trip was grounded for more than five hours at Virginia’s Dulles International Airport due to mechanical problems caused by the cicadas.

Reporters finally landed late Wednesday morning, POLITICO reported, after circling in their plane and temporarily unable to touch down because British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was slated to arrive in his own aircraft at roughly the same time.

The intrusions from the insects come as potentially trillions of Brood X cicadas are surfacing from underground after 17 years, inundating as many as 15 states and currently staking their claim in the greater Washington, D.C., area. On Wednesday, however, their population decreased by exactly one, according to the president.

“I just got one,” Biden told reporters before venturing across the Atlantic. “It got me.”

Scores of workers at a Houston hospital system have been suspended and face being fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccination, a controversial company mandate that has drawn protests and an outcry from those facing termination.

Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Bloom said the 178 workers represent less than 1% of almost 25,000 employees.

“We are nearly 100% compliant with our COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Bloom said in an email to staff Tuesday. “Houston Methodist is officially the first hospital system in the country to achieve this goal for the benefit of its patients.”

Bloom said 27 of the 178 suspended workers have received one dose of vaccine, and that he is hopeful they will get the second dose. All are suspended for two weeks and are set to be fired if they fail to be fully vaccinated.

“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first,” Bloom said.First in line, still no shot: Surprising number of hospital workers refuse vaccines

An additional 285 employees received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons, Bloom said.

“I feel betrayed a little bit,” Amanda Rivera told KHOU-TV as she left the building Monday. “I worked in the ER. It was crazy during the pandemic. We were short-staffed. The hospital was over capacity with patients. It was just a lot. Now for them to come and do this is like a slap in the face.”

Protesters wave signs at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital in Baytown, Texas, on Monday, June 7, 2021.
Hospital workers across the nation risked their lives during the pandemic, and many died of the virus. Yet a recent USA TODAY survey of some of the largest hospital networks and public hospitals in the country reveal staff vaccination rates vary widely, ranging from 51% to 91%.

Mandatory vaccination is not popular with lawmakers in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law Monday denying state contracts to businesses that require customers to be vaccinated. Vaccine “passports” also are prohibited.

“Texas is open 100%, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits,” Abbott said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance saying employers have the right to require COVID-19 vaccination, citing a “direct threat” to others in the workplace. Still, more than 100 Houston Methodist employees filed suit against the hospital system last month saying the vaccines are “experimental” and that the mandatory vaccination policy is unfair.

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“I cried the whole way out,” Jennifer Bridges, a nurse involved in the lawsuit, told KHOU-TV as she exited the hospital Monday.

Bloom said the science, along with data from 300 million doses already distributed in the U.S. alone, proves the vaccines are safe and necessary “if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19.” The number of both positive cases and hospitalizations continue to drop across the nation continue to decline, he said, proving the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Bloom said the mandate has been challenged by the media and some outspoken employees. But he said several other major health care centers have followed Houston Methodist’s lead.

“As the first hospital system to mandate COVID-19 vaccines we were prepared for this,” he said. “The criticism is sometimes the price we pay for leading medicine.”

Biden’s encounter was hardly the first time an American president or members of his Cabinet have endured a similar aerial ambush while carrying out their official duties. “I got the sucker,” boasted former President Barack Obama in 2009, after smacking a fly that had landed on his forearm during an interview taping with CNBC.

Four years later, at a White House ceremony where Obama announced his nominees for two top financial regulatory roles, another fly swerved around the president as he delivered prepared remarks — at one point landing on his forehead.

Former President Donald Trump also was not spared. Flies made notable appearances during his events at least twice in July 2019, at a White House social media summit and a speech commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of the Virginia legislature. “How did a fly get into the White House?” Trump asked at the time.

In fact, flies in the executive mansion have remained such a problem across the past few administrations that White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond discussed the nuisance with former top Trump aide Jared Kushner in a phone call earlier this year. “Yeah man, they’re like bats. … Good luck,” Kushner reportedly told Richmond.

Of course, the most prominent recent victim of insect interference was Vice President Mike Pence, who seemed unaware of a black bug resting on his white, closely cropped hair for a lengthy stretch of his debate last October with then-Sen. Kamala Harris. “I didn’t know he was there,” Pence said the next week.–166333830/–166333874/–166334033/–166334603/–166334604/–166334651/–166334652/–166334704/–166334771/–166335142/–166335323/–166335327/–166333830/–166333874/–166334033/–166334603/–166334604/–166334651/–166334652/–166334704/–166334771/–166335142/–166335323/–166335327/–166333830/–166333874/–166334033/–166334603/–166334604/–166334651/–166334652/–166334704/–166334771/–166335142/–166335323/–166335327/ 

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