GE suspends Covid vaccine and testing rules after Supreme Court blocks Biden mandate

An employee helps install a traction motor onto the truck of a General Electric Evolution Series Tier 4 diesel locomotive at the GE Manufacturing Solutions facility in Fort Worth, Texas.Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

General Electric on Friday has suspended its Covid vaccine and testing requirement after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's mandate, a company spokesperson told CNBC.

GE, which had174,000 employees at the end of 2020, has encouraged its employees to get vaccinated, the spokesperson said.

The Supreme Court's conservative majority, in a 6-3 ruling, called the administration's requirements a "blunt instrument" that "draws no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to Covid-19."

President Joe Biden, in a statement after the court's decision, called on companies to voluntarily implement the vaccine and testing rules.

"The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure," Biden said. "But that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans' health and economy."

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has vowed to use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers against Covid.

CNBC Health & Science

Read CNBC's latest global coverage of the Covid pandemic:

Biden deploys military medical teams to hospitals in six states as omicron disrupts essential services

270 health experts to Spotify: Joe Rogan's Covid misinformation is 'a sociological issue of devastating proportions'

Israel is using throat swabs to catch Covid faster — here's why we're not, according to Dr. Fauci

Delta CEO says 8,000 employees have tested positive for Covid in last 4 weeks

Why Cuba's extraordinary Covid vaccine success could provide the best hope for low-income countries

Omicron disrupts essential services as workers call out sick: 'Most people are going to get Covid'

Omicron cases are less severe, hospital stays shorter than delta at large California health system

"We urge all employers to require workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly to most effectively fight this deadly virus in the workplace," Walsh said in a statement Thursday. "Employers are responsible for the safety of their workers on the job."

The American Medical Association, one of the largest doctors' groups in the U.S., said the Supreme Court had blocked "one of the most effective tools in the fight against further transmission and death from this aggressive virus."

"Workplace transmission has been a major factor in the spread of COVID-19," AMA President Gerald Harmon said. "Now more than ever, workers in all settings across the country need commonsense, evidence-based protections against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death."

Harmon urged businesses to safeguard their workers against Covid. A number of large companies – including Citigroup, Nike and Columbia Sportswear – have said they would begin firing unvaccinated workers.

The omicron Covid variant is driving new infections to unprecedented levels. The U.S. is reporting an average of more than 786,000 new infections every day, up 29% over the prior last week, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Hospitalizations are at a pandemic high based on federal data that goes back to the summer of 2020. About 151,000 Americans are in hospitals with Covid as of Friday, a seven-day average of Health and Human Services data shows, up 23% from a week ago. That figure includes both patients that were admitted to a hospital due to Covid and those who tested positive after admission.

-- CNBC's Nate Rattner contributed to this report