The Justice Department on Tuesday announced an appeal to unfreeze President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating that big businesses vaccinate their workforce. 

In its brief, the Department of Justice argues that delayed implementation of the vaccine mandate would contribute to a loss of life and increase the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19. The department told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that the virus' threat to workers was "ongoing and overwhelming" amidst the economic recovery.

“Simply put, delaying the Standard would likely cost many lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects, and tremendous expenses. That is a confluence of harms of the highest order,” the Justice Department wrote in its motion to the court.

However, in apparent recognition that a lift on the pause may not be coming right away, the department requested the court to at least allow the mandate for masking and testing requirements for unvaccinated workers to remain in effect. It reasons that these measures were necessary because of the “extraordinary and ongoing threat to employee safety in the workplace, and the proven ability of masking and testing to mitigate that threat.”

On Nov. 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered that implementation of the administration’s vaccine mandate be halted in response to a lawsuit from five Republican-led states. In its ruling, the judges argued that the executive order was "staggeringly overbroad." 

Biden’s executive order on Sept. 9 required businesses with 100 or more employees to vaccinate their workers or require weekly testing for those who refuse. Businesses were given until Jan. 4 to come into compliance with the mandate before it was put on hold by the court. 

The administration had hoped that its vaccine mandate from September would raise the number of Americans who will get vaccinated. For weeks, it received a boost from business executives nationwide who supported the mandate and the White House had finalized a Labor Department rule to guide employers’ implementation of their mandates.

On Nov. 12, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had to pause implementation of the new rule because of the court order freezing the mandate.