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NYC orders city health workers to get vaccinated or tested

July 21, 2021 Jennifer Peltz and Michael Hill, Associated Press
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Workers in New York City-run hospitals and health clinics will have to get vaccinated or get tested weekly under a policy announced Wednesday to battle a rise in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

Publicly employed nurses, doctors, social workers, custodians, registrars and colleagues will be covered under the order from city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, and Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t rule out eventually applying the same requirement to teachers, police officers and other city employees.

The city tried to turn the page on the pandemic this summer, citing its vaccination campaign to relax restrictions and encourage residents to resume their regular activities, workers to return to offices and tourists to visit. But the new requirement comes amid a slowdown in doses and what de Blasio called “a huge curveball”: the more infectious delta variant.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

“Because of the delta variant, increasingly the choice is between infection or vaccination. And that can mean the difference between life and death,” Chokshi said at a briefing with the Democratic mayor.

The number of vaccine doses being given out daily in the city has dropped to less than 18,000, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in early April. About 65% of all adults are fully vaccinated. But the rate among public hospital system workers is lower: about 60%, according to Dr. Mitchell Katz, who runs it.

Meanwhile, caseloads have been rising in the city for weeks, and health officials say the variant makes up about 7 in 10 cases they sequence.

De Blasio has emphasized that hospitalizations have remained fairly steady — at least for now. Rises and drops in hospitalizations generally lag trends in new cases by a couple of weeks.

The mayor reiterated Wednesday that he doesn’t currently plan to reimpose a broad indoor mask mandate for the general public, as Los Angeles County has done. New York City residents still are required to wear masks in certain settings, such as public transit. De Blasio said he doesn’t want unvaccinated people to see masks as a substitute, or vaccinated people to feel they got the shots in vain.

“If we push hard on vaccinations … I think that’s the best way to get this done,” he said.

De Blasio said the weekly testing rule could encourage more health care workers to get vaccinated.

The order, effective Aug. 2, will cover the roughly 42,000 people who work in the city’s public hospital system, which includes 11 hospitals, as well as nursing homes and clinics. The policy also will cover some city Health Department employees.

Workers who don’t comply will face unpaid suspension, de Blasio said.

San Francisco last month announced a more dramatic step of requiring city workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus when a vaccine receives full federal approval.

The private New York-Presbyterian hospital system announced in June that it will require its 48,000 employees to be vaccinated unless they have a valid exemption, over objections from a major health care union, SEIU 1199. It encourages vaccinations but opposes mandating them.

The union represents about 3,000 city public hospital nurses, lab techs and other workers. President George Gresham was pleased the city isn’t requiring vaccination, saying there are cooperative ways to address both workers’ and hospital administrators’ concerns without “threatening our members’ freedom of choice and livelihood.”

District Council 37, which also represents some city public hospital workers and opposes mandatory vaccination, greeted Wednesday’s announcement by saying it supported more testing.

“We’ll need to see how the testing is being implemented, but our primary concern is the safety of our members and their patients, and testing gets to that,” spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said.

De Blasio said he hoped health systems and businesses nationwide would emulate the city’s policy.

“This is the first step in fighting back,” de Blasio said. “Everyone can do this now, and everyone should do this now to save lives.”

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