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NYC, California to Require Vaccines or Weekly Tests and Masks for Public Workers

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 7/26/2021 Henry Goldman
Bill de Blasio wearing a suit and tie © Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg Bill de Blasio

(Bloomberg) -- New York City and California will require their government workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine or submit to weekly coronavirus tests and wear masks indoors, as cases linked to the delta variant climb across the U.S.

In New York, city workers have until Sept. 13 to be vaccinated. Those who resist the new rules risk dismissal without pay.

“The delta variant has thrown us a curve ball,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a briefing on Monday. “If someone is unvaccinated, unfortunately they pose a greater risk.”

While stopping short of full mandates, the moves are aimed at nudging vaccine-hesitant residents off the fence at a time when cases are rising. So far, most of the mandates that have been enacted in the U.S. have taken place at hospitals and other health-care settings.

San Francisco said in June that it would mandate its 35,000 employees to get the shots once the vaccine receives full authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, but asked workers in high-risk settings like nursing homes and homeless shelters to be vaccinated by Sept. 15. Currently, Covid vaccines are being administered in the U.S. under emergency authorizations.

a man standing in front of a bus: NYC Covid Cases Rising As Delta Surges, Vaccines Slow © Bloomberg NYC Covid Cases Rising As Delta Surges, Vaccines Slow

While several U.S. states have banned vaccine mandates, European politicians are moving closer to imposing restrictions. In France, for example, vaccines are compulsory for health workers and proof of vaccination is required for certain indoor events.

New York City’s broad vaccine rule expands a policy announced last week that requires health care workers in public hospitals and clinics to be vaccinated by Aug. 2 or submit to weekly tests. Foster care, senior center and shelter staff will be required to be vaccinated by Aug. 16, with the mandate applying to the whole city workforce of 300,000 employees by the first day of public school in mid-September.

Unvaccinated city schoolteachers, police officers, fire officials, front-line and office workers who don’t comply with testing and mask requirements won’t be able to come to work and will lose their pay.

“This means everybody,” de Blasio said. “If someone is not wearing their mask, they will be removed from the workplace.”

‘Aggressive Strain’

Only 54% of residents are fully vaccinated in New York City, which missed its goal of fully vaccinating 5 million New Yorkers by the end of June. Just over 4.5 million New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

About 60% of the city’s more than 42,000 public hospital employees have been vaccinated, according to Mitchell Katz, president and chief executive officer of the system.


Video: California to require proof of vaccination or weekly tests for state employees (CNBC)

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“Don’t wait: The virus is here now and it’s transmitting quickly due to the delta variant, a particularly aggressive strain of the virus, with cases rising rapidly particularly among unvaccinated,” Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said on Monday.

The city said it has started discussions with municipal unions and consequences for non-compliant workers will vary by agency.

Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the city must engage in discussions with the unions before establishing such rules.

“If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain,” said Garrido, who represents the largest municipal employees union in the city.

The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s largest teachers union, released a statement supporting vaccination and testing, saying the practices “helped keep schools among the safest places in the city.”

Call on Private Sector

City officials also urged private employers to start requiring the shots and said the rise in cases was largely among unvaccinated residents.

The seven-day average of new cases in New York City rose to 837 on July 24, more than double the level at the beginning of the month. The positivity rate rose to 2.35%, up from below 1% earlier this month, although hospitalization and death counts remain low.

Read more: Can I Be Required to Get Vaccinated Against Covid-19?: QuickTake

Despite having legal wherewithal to do so, few companies have implemented outright vaccine mandates. Morgan Stanley advised unvaccinated workers they would be barred from its New York offices, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. warned employees last month that it may require vaccines. Around 600 colleges and universities have mandated the vaccine for students returning for the fall semester, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“My message to the private sector is go as far as you can go right now,” de Blasio said. “I would strongly urge a vaccination mandate.”

Although more than 70% of eligible California residents have received at least one shot, the state now has about 3,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19, up from 900 on May 15. The delta variant now accounts for more than 80% of samples sequenced in the state, according to public health officials.

In addition to the requirement for state employees, California will require workers in all health care facilities -- public and private -- to provide proof of vaccination or wear a mask and submit to twice-weekly tests.

The move comes at a politically difficult moment for Governor Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall election in September fueled by anger at the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

“Too many people have chosen to live with this virus,” Newsom said at a press conference in Oakland. “We are at a point in this pandemic where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us, in a profound, devastating and deadly way.”

(Updates with California mandate)

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