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New York City to require vaccines or weekly COVID-19 testing for city workers

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A health care worker inoculates Evelyn Pereira, right, of Brooklyn, with the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as her daughter Soile Reyes, 12, looks on, Thursday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. New York City is closing the big vaccination sites to focus on areas with low vaccination rates.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A health care worker inoculates Evelyn Pereira, right, of Brooklyn, with the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as her daughter Soile Reyes, 12, looks on, Thursday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. New York City is closing the big vaccination sites to focus on areas with low vaccination rates.

NEW YORK >> New York City will require all of its municipal workers — including teachers and police officers — to get coronavirus vaccines by mid-September or face weekly COVID-19 testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today.

The rule is expected to affect about 340,000 city employees, making the city one of the largest employers in the U.S. to take such action. While it isn’t a vaccine mandate — no workers will be forced to take a shot — officials hope the inconvenience and discomfort of weekly tests will persuade many to overcome a reluctance to get inoculated.

“This is about our recovery. This is about what we need to do to bring back New York City,” de Blasio said. “This is about keeping people safe.”

The Sept. 13 deadline coincides with the start of public school, when the Democratic mayor has said he expects all pupils to be in classrooms full time. City health care workers and employees in congregate setting such as group homes will face earlier deadlines.

The move comes as the city battles a rise in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. Since the end of June, the daily average of new cases has increased by more than 300%.

Last week, the city had announced it was mandating vaccinations or weekly testing for workers in the city’s hospital system.

De Blasio expanded the requirement Monday and urged private employers to adopt similar rules.

“My message to the private sector is: Go as far as you can go right now,” the mayor said. “I would strongly urge a vaccination mandate whenever possible, or as close to it as possible.”

Unions representing city workers offered mixed responses to the new mandate affecting their members.

“Vaccination and testing have helped keep schools among the safest places in the city,” the United Federation of Teachers said in a statement. “This approach puts the emphasis on vaccination but still allows for personal choice and provides additional safeguards through regular testing.”

But Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37 of AFSCME, said, “If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain.”

Garrido, whose union represents about 100,000 New York City employees across several departments, said weekly testing is subject to mandatory bargaining.

“New York City is a union town and that cannot be ignored,” he said in a statement.

Asked about Garrido’s statement, de Blasio said the city has a right to require that its workforce gets vaccinated or tested.

“When it comes to the health and safety of our workers in the midst of a global pandemic, we have the right, as employers, to take urgent action to protect people’s health, to protect their lives,” he said.

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 adults in the city are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, caseloads have been rising for weeks, and health officials say the variant makes up about seven in 10 new cases.

De Blasio has said that he does not plan to reimpose a broad indoor mask mandate, as Los Angeles County has done. Masks are required in some settings such as public transportation.

De Blasio said unvaccinated city employees will be required to wear masks indoors at all times.

Asked how the city would handle unvaccinated employees who don’t want to wear masks in the workplace, city labor relations commissioner Renee Campion said, “If employees refuse to comply, they just can’t be at work. And in fact, they will not be paid.”

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