Days after a national eviction moratorium expired, the Biden administration on Tuesday issued a new, more limited freeze that remains in effect through Oct. 3.
Like the previous order, the two-month moratorium issued Tuesday comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new ban on evictions covers parts of the United States that are experiencing what the CDC calls "substantial" and "high" spread of the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday afternoon, that's the vast majority of U.S. counties.
The order, which cites the rise of the delta variant, says: "Without this Order, evictions in these [higher transmission] areas would likely exacerbate the increase in cases."
"Where we are right now with such high disease rates, we felt a new, tailored order [was needed] to make sure that ... working Americans who were at risk of eviction could be stably housed during this really tenuous, challenging period of time," the CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told NPR's All Things Considered.
The federal ban expired Saturday night, affecting millions of Americans who had the potential to be removed from their homes if they had fallen behind on rent.
Since that moratorium's expiration, progressives had pressured the Biden administration to extend the pause on evictions.
The administration previously said it didn't have the legal authority to issue a such a measure. The new order could face legal challenges.
Gene Sperling, who oversees the White House's rollout of COVID-19 relief, told reporters on Monday that Biden had "quadruple-checked" whether he had the legal grounds to extend the moratorium unilaterally but said ultimately his hands were tied by a Supreme Court ruling that blocked the CDC from extending its past moratorium beyond the end of July. A last-minute effort by Congress to extend the ban failed.
Sperling pushed back against criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who argued the White House should have acted sooner in extending the earlier moratorium. He said the Supreme Court made it clear that "congressional authorization" was needed on the matter.
Sperling added that Biden was asking state and local governments to extend or pass eviction moratoriums themselves and noted there's still billions of dollars in rental assistance aid available.
In remarks to reporters earlier Tuesday, Biden acknowledged the legal quandary.
"Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court's recent decision is likely to face obstacles," he said. "I've indicated to the CDC, I'd like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they're not going to allow to continue."
For days, a group of congressional Democrats had argued that the prevalence and severity of the delta variant necessitated the continuation of the moratorium.
Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, who was a driving force in the effort to raise awareness about the moratorium's expiration, slept outside the U.S. Capitol in protest.
Bush, along with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and others, called on their House colleagues to return to Washington after leaving for recess and pushed the White House to step in.
A "largely preventable tragedy"
During his remarks Tuesday, Biden reiterated the danger of the delta variant, noting it now accounts for more than 80% of all current coronavirus cases in the United States.
Calling the current surge a "largely preventable tragedy," the president emphasized that unlike past surges of the virus, "we have the tools to prevent this rise in cases from shutting down our businesses, our schools, our society."
He noted that despite the increase in cases, there has not been a comparable rise in hospitalizations or deaths in most parts of the country due to the effectiveness of the vaccine.
"We have a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Biden said. "If you're vaccinated, you're highly unlikely to get COVID-19, and even if you do, the chances are you won't show any symptoms and if you do, they'll most likely be very mild. Vaccinated people are almost never hospitalized with COVID-19."
He pointed to Vermont, the most vaccinated state in the country, which he said has seen just five new cases of COVID-19 per day for every 100,000 people who live there.
By contrast, he noted that Florida and Texas — states with lower vaccination rates — account for one-third of all new COVID-19 cases in the country.
He urged people to get the vaccine before it's too late.
"Right now, too many people are dying or watching a loved one dying and saying, 'If I just got vaccinated.' "