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health as it happens

New York City issues vaccine mandate for city workers to fight Delta variant

By Gabriella Borter and Maria Caspani

July 27, 2021 — 3.42am

New York: New York City will require municipal workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-September or face weekly testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, as authorities nationwide ramp up vaccine promotion to try to stem a wave of infections caused by the Delta variant.

Mayor de Blasio’s announcement, which affects more than 300,000 municipal workers and sets a vaccination deadline of September 13, comes a week after the city passed a vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers at city-run hospitals and clinics. Citywide, about 59 per cent of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19.

A teacher receives a COVID-19 test at West Brooklyn Community High School in New York.

A teacher receives a COVID-19 test at West Brooklyn Community High School in New York. Credit:AP

“It is about protecting the workforce, their health and safety and the people they serve,” de Blasio said on Monday, local time.

Federal and local officials are sounding the alarm about a rise in COVID-19 cases and racing to get infections under control before the start of the school year.

The highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first found in India earlier this year, has quickly driven up infections across the United States after the country enjoyed a drop-off in cases and hospitalisations when vaccines became widely available in the northern spring.

Due to concerns over the Delta variant, the United States will not lift any existing travel restrictions in the near future, a White House official told Reuters.

The sharpest increases in COVID-19 cases are in places with lower vaccination rates. Florida, Texas and Missouri account for 40 per cent of all new cases nationwide, with around one in five of all new US cases occurring in Florida, White House adviser Jeffrey Zients said last week.

Just under 50 per cent of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates remain a point of contention and have already sparked legal opposition in the case of public universities. Opponents see them as a violation of individual rights.

But officials have justified them because the vaccines have proven to be safe and dramatically reduce people’s risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus.

Some 57 medical associations on Monday published a statement calling for all healthcare and long-term care employers in the United States to require their employees to get vaccinated, calling it “the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first”.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the vaccine rollout has speeded up, with 1.08m given in the past week.

New York City’s largest public employee union, DC 37, took legal issue with the city’s mandate on Monday.

“If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain. While we encourage everyone to get vaccinated and support measures to ensure our members’ health and wellbeing, weekly testing is clearly subject to mandatory bargaining,” Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement.

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People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus and pray outside Hsing Tian Kong Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.

De Blasio cited the Delta variant as the city’s reason for moving beyond promoting voluntary vaccination.

“It was one thing to start with a heavy voluntary focus in the beginning and then incentive focus, but it’s quite clear the Delta variant has changed the game,” he said.

In the last few weeks, health and government officials have aggressively emphasised the importance of getting vaccinated, including some Republican leaders who previously refrained from openly endorsing the vaccines.

The latest vaccine data indicates that their tone change might be changing some minds. On Sunday, the CDC reported an uptick in the number of vaccine doses administered in the past 24 hours – 778,996, the highest number given in a 24-hour period since the United States reported giving 1.16 million doses on July 3.

The number of vaccine doses administered daily peaked at 4.63 million on April 10, data from the CDC shows.

Reuters

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