NYC Will Require Vaccination Or Weekly Testing For All City Workers

Beginning in mid-September, New York City will require all of its roughly 300,000 municipal workers, including police, firefighters and teachers, to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly. The mayor’s office says the policy will be announced Monday.

Under the latest plan, all city workers must comply with the vaccination-or-test rule beginning on September 13th, which is also the first day of public school in New York City. However, for 45,000 city staffers or contractors who work in residential and congregate care settings, the deadline to comply will come earlier, on August 16th.

As part of the transition to spur more vaccination, the city will double down on its existing mask mandates for unvaccinated employees. All city workers must show proof of vaccination starting August 2nd or be forced to wear a mask at all times.

The new directives come less than a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio issued the “get vaccinated or get tested” rule for the city’s 42,000 public health workers. At the time, the mayor hinted that the requirement would eventually be expanded to more of the city’s workforce as part of an incremental or “climb up the ladder” approach.

About 54% of all New Yorkers have been fully inoculated to date, but the pace of vaccinations has been slowing, leading experts to worry that the more contagious delta variant will fuel a rapid surge in infections. The latest seven-day average of total cases is 824, more than double the number two weeks ago. The daily positivity rate has also climbed to 2.27%, after being well below 1% in June.

Reflecting the growing concern of health experts, de Blasio on Friday told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he wanted private companies also to begin requiring or incentivizing vaccinations at some level.

“I’m calling upon all New York City employers, including our private hospitals: Move immediately to some form of mandate, whatever the maximum you feel you can do,” he said. “We have reached the limits of purely voluntary.”

Part of Monday’s announcement will include an official call for private employers to enact a vaccine or test mandate.

To assist with enforcement, the city plans to launch a new app that will enable users to validate proof of vaccination or weekly testing. It will be used by city agencies but also be made available to the general public. New York State introduced the Excelsior Pass in March as the first government-issued passport in the country, and it has been used by some businesses despite privacy concerns.

Some have criticized the mayor for not pushing for a stricter vaccination requirement for certain jobs and activities. San Francisco last month became the first major city to announce a municipal mandate for its 35,000-plus workers. But the issue of whether to require vaccinations has been fraught with debate. Unions have vigorously opposed mandatory vaccinations as a condition of employment.

Last week, de Blasio’s decision to permit a choice between shots and testing was commended by the head of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, the largest health care union in the country. George Gresham, the president of 1199, urged the city to look for “cooperative avenues” to address public health concerns.

“Threatening our members’ freedom of choice and livelihood is not one of them,” he added.

As of last week, about 60% of city hospital workers have been vaccinated. The average vaccination rate of all hospitals—public or private—is 74%, according to state data.

Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiology professor at CUNY, applauded the new policies as “a big step in the right direction.”

“It acknowledges that many people are still not vaccinated in this city right now and that steps need to be taken to protect all New Yorkers today, and not just those who are vaccinated today,” he said. “It seems like a return to a public health approach. We need multiple strategies right now, not just vaccination.”

But while experts have stressed the importance of public outreach campaigns, many, including Nash, have argued that the city should also reinstate an indoor masking rule for everyone, similar to what Los Angeles has done. Currently, vaccinated New Yorkers must only cover their faces on public transit and inside schools, hospitals and congregate settings like homeless shelters. Those who are unvaccinated are supposed to wear masks in those scenarios, too, and whenever else they share an indoor space with strangers.

The mayor, however, has preferred a carrot-and-stick approach, which was reflected in his decision to make unvaccinated city workers wear masks at all times beginning next Monday. But how that rule will be enforced—and whether there will be any penalties–remains to be known.

Since the start of the pandemic, the New York City Police Department has been among the municipal agencies singled out for a lack of mask enforcement. Last week, the NYPD said that it had administered shots to 43% of its members, although that did not include those who may have received doses outside of agency-run vaccine sites.

Manhattan Council Member Mark Levine, the chair of the city council’s health committee, expressed approval of the mayor’s new plan, but he also urged the city to redouble other efforts to increase vaccination rates by educating New Yorkers as well as returning to the indoor mask rule.

“Delta is coming at us like a freight train,” Levine said. “We have to take more aggressive measures.”

Along those lines, the mayor plans to call on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to remove from their platforms a group of individuals known as the “Disinformation Dozen,” a list of 12 people blamed for sharing 65% of the misleading and inaccurate claims about the coronavirus vaccines on social media.

On Sunday, Tony Patman, a City Parks Department staffer working outside Betsy Head Park in Brownsville, Brooklyn, said he was against the government requiring the shots. Many neighborhoods, particularly those with Black and Orthodox residents, have seen vaccination rates lower than 40%. In Brownsville, only about 37% of residents have been vaccinated.

Patman, who is Black, said that even though he has been vaccinated, he understood that many others were skeptical and distrustful of government. He said he lost his 78-year-old mother to the coronavirus. But what really persuaded him to get vaccinated was watching President Joe Biden and other prominent Americans get the shots.

“I know they want to live just as much as I want to live, so I’m gonna take it too,” he said.