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A string of Republican leaders and lawmakers praised the Supreme Court’s Thursday decision to block the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, even as public health experts argued that the ruling could lead to more infections, serious illness and deaths.

The court, which upheld a more narrow rule requiring vaccination among health-care workers at federally funded facilities, expressed doubt that the administration had the legal authority to enact the broader mandate, which would have covered more than 80 million employees.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), who led the group of states that challenged the requirement, called it “a big win for workers across the country,” and former president Donald Trump said he was “proud of the Supreme Court for not backing down.”

Doctors and public health experts, however, criticized the court’s decision, saying the ruling would make it more difficult for the country to reach the level of vaccinations needed to overcome the pandemic. “This Supreme Court ruling will cost lives,” Jeremy Faust, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, wrote on Twitter.

Here’s what to know

  • The Supreme Court’s decision leaves employers facing a patchwork of clashing state policies over their role in protecting their workforces from the surging pandemic.
  • President Biden on Thursday announced plans to distribute free masks, purchase an additional 500 million coronavirus tests and deploy military medical teams to hospitals in six states to address the spike in cases of the omicron variant.
  • The White House is promising to provide 10 million free coronavirus tests each month for schools, aiming to help maintain in-person classes at a time when at-home tests have been hard to come by.
  • University enrollment fell again in the fall, a new report has found, prompting worries that pandemic declines could become an enduring trend.