george williams

HEALTH-CARE WORKERS NOT THE ONLY VULNERABLE ONES: George Williams, a Motor Vehicle Operator who transported homeless families seeking shelter, along with their belongings, died of the coronavirus nine months ago. His union is asking that all its members, not just the ones employed at city hospitals, be given priority for vaccination.

Thirty percent of the health-care workers employed by New York City Health+Hospitals passed on the chance to be inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine, according to Dr. Mitchell Katz, the system's president and CEO.

The disclosure came as Gov. Cuomo warned Jan. 5 that in addition to a troubling uptick in infections, a recent mutation of the virus had popped up in Saratoga County that was 70 percent more contagious and posed a new threat that could be a "game-changer." That strain was first discovered in Britain last month.

New York City has already lost close to 300 civil servants to COVID, in addition to more than 130 employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Far More Sidelined

Tens of thousands more have been sidelined by the virus. There have been lingering health issues for one in five virus survivors, which range in severity and can be disabling.

At a briefing by Mayor de Blasio, Dr. Katz said he understood the clinicians who took a wait-and-see approach on the vaccine, which had been granted an emergency authorization after expedited trials led to approval.

"I think you really have to think about what the experience has been of a Health+Hospitals nurse over the last 10 months," he told reporters. "How many times science has corrected itself? How many times it's turned out that there was some new wrinkle, and they've gone through every day of that, right?"

He continued, "Not everybody has to live the life of the nurse who's told today: 'This is what works.' And then tomorrow: 'Oh no, we've learned something more.' But while we're learning new things, the nurses are actually working right? And they're trying to take care of their patients in the best way possible. So, is it at all surprising that people want a little bit more time to know that this too will not turn out to be wrong?"

Got Heat From Cuomo

Dr. Katz's comments came a day after Governor Cuomo blasted NYC H+H for distributing only 31 percent of its initial allotment of the COVID vaccine and Mayor de Blasio announced plans to accelerate the city's vaccine roll-out with a goal of administering 400,000 doses a week by the end of this month.

Under guidelines issued by the Federal Government and adhered to by the state, the initial round of vaccinations were limited to health-care clinicians and the elderly in congregate-care facilities. Yet, according to the Governor, the state has only had enough of the vaccine to cover 900,000 of the state's 2.1 million health-care workers.

In a phone interview, Dr. David Prezant, the Fire Department's Chief Medical Officer, said that his agency had used up its entire initial supply and was working through its second batch while operating on a seven-day basis.

The state is now permitting NYC H+H to offer the vaccine to all hospital employees.

Joe Puleo, president of District Council 37, among his 3,000 members represents 200 High Pressure Plant Tenders who operate the heating and cooling infrastructure in H+H's 11 hospitals. They sometimes wind up making repairs in the midst of the clinical-care hot zone.

Give It to Everyone

Having lost three members to the virus, he welcomed word that those workers could now receive the vaccine, but he wanted it provided immediately to all members who work in agencies like the Department of Homeless Services.

"We lost one of our members who was working for DHS and was responsible for picking up and driving homeless individuals and families along with their belongings," Mr. Puleo said. "Several months into this pandemic and the city has not done a comprehensive risk assessment for all of the civil service titles we have in the field every day."

He added, "We also need continuing education mandated for all of our members about the underlying science surrounding COVID and the benefits of the vaccine, just like we do with EEO training."

Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee, said in a phone interview that the sluggish vaccine roll-out underscored the need for quick passage of his legislation to create the COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety Guidance Review Board to review, critique and promulgate standards for both municipal workers and private-sector employees.

"We need to be looking closely at where the deaths and infections have been occurring for our essential frontline civil service workforce agency by agency so we can quickly evaluate where the highest risks are going forward and target our resources in those places first," Mr. Miller said. 

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