Citing an exponential increase in coronavirus infections in just over a month, Governor Cuomo announced July 28 that the 130,000 state workers would be required by Sept. 6 to get a vaccine or submit to weekly testing.
"There's no doubt that the Delta variant is real—you can see it in the numbers," he said on a Zoom presentation to the Association for a Better New York. "The vaccine is the weapon that will win the war against COVID, and to get our vaccination rates up even more and protect New Yorkers from the Delta variant, we are now requiring all patient-facing health-care workers in state hospitals to get vaccinated by Labor Day."
Virus Cases Soared
Mr. Cuomo said that a surge caused by the variant had sent the state's COVID case count from 275 in June to 2,220 by the end of July.
"All State workers will also be required to get vaccinated, and those who do not will be required to be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis," he said. "It's smart, it's fair, it's in everyone's interest and it will put us one step closer to defeating this beast once and for all."
His move came a couple of days after Mayor de Blasio announced a similar requirement for the city's 320,000 employees and a day before President Biden announced mandates for Federal workers that could involve testing more than once a week for those who are not vaccinated.
The state's new policy is tougher than the city's in one key respect: there will be no virus-testing alternative for health-care workers in state hospitals, who will be required to be vaccinated.
Mr. Cuomo said he wanted localities to adopt a similar standard.
State Unions Milder
While Mayor de Blasio's vaccine mandate drew objections from several unions which questioned why he hadn't negotiated the terms, state-union response was somewhat less adversarial, particularly the largest of those groups.
"CSEA supports the Governor's vaccine-or-test policy," Civil Service Employees Association President Mary E. Sullivan said in a statement. "We need to continue to be diligent in protecting everyone in New York against COVID and this helps accomplish that. This procedure is already being effectively used in the [State University of New York] system and all that's happening here is it is being expanded."
CSEA represents almost 60,000 state workers, as well as several times that number in localities throughout the state.
New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association President Thomas H. Mungeer took issue with what he called Mr. Cuomo's "abrupt announcement regarding mandatory vaccinations or weekly COVID tests for state employees. While we await contact from the Governor's Office with more information, we are reviewing our legal options, since we believe this is a change in the terms and conditions of our employment."
PEF: State Must Do More
Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence said, "The vaccines are proven to prevent the deadly COVID virus and they create a safer workplace. We agree with other unions that a vaccination mandate must be bargained between labor and management. In addition, PEF recognizes that both public and private employers have the right to require COVID testing, but any testing of state employees must not put the health of our members at risk."
His statement continued, "PEF will continue to advocate for increased telecommuting where possible and strict COVID protocols in the workplace, including masks as required, proper air ventilation in all state offices, and social distancing as appropriate."
PEF represents 54,000 state employees in professional, white-collar and technical titles.
Mr. Cuomo's move to require public employee vaccination came the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its May guidance lifting the mask mandate for vaccinated individuals for indoor settings.
At the time, some unions representing health-care workers, as well as retail employees, criticized the easing of restrictions. They faulted the CDC's use of the honor system at a time when so many people remained unvaccinated.
Back to Indoor Masking
The new CDC advisory instructs people that to "maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others" they should "wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission."
On the agency's website, it has a county tracker where people can check the level where they live of community transmission of the virus.
According to its rankings in New York City, four boroughs are in the "substantial" cohort, while the fifth, Staten Island, has a more-serious problem and is experiencing a "high" rate of community transmission.
Five months ago, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine expressed concerns that Mr. Cuomo was too quick to drop pandemic protocols while so many people hadn't been vaccinated.
At that briefing, Dr. Celine Gounder, who was a member of the Biden Administration's COVID transition team, warned that the Governor was moving too fast on reopening because the virus and its variants were continuing to spread at an alarming rate.
'Need to Be More Patient'
"We do need to be a little more patient before we reopen," she said. She cited the proliferation of virus variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and a homegrown variant in Manhattan's Washington Heights.
Dr. Gounder warned that the city and state had been in an extended plateau, which was "highly concerning" because that usually presaged a resurgence of the virus.
"The Brazilian and South African variants are concerning because they seem to evade our immune response to natural infection" and they may also even have a "resistance to vaccine-induced immunity," Dr. Gounder said. "If spread continues, the virus has the chance to mutate. We want to quash the transmission until people are protected with the current vaccines."
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