All Department of Education staff will have to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday morning.
In late July, Mayor de Blasio announced that all municipal workers would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of the school year on Sept. 13 or undergo weekly testing. But now, school-based staff will no longer have the option to test out.
According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke about the mandate in a press conference on Staten Island on Monday, the City’s new mandate will impact about 1480,000 DOE employees including teachers, principals, kitchen workers, and custodians. The policy does not apply to DOE contracted employees like bus drivers and for educators and staff working in 3-ks and preschools not located in DOE buildings, according to a department spokesperson. Employees at 3k and preschools not located in DOE buildings are still subject to the mayor’s vax or test policy.
A spokesperson for New York City’s teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, told amNewYork that roughly 80% of all public school teachers have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 63% of all DOE employees are vaccinated, according to Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. It is unclear if the chancellor meant fully or partially vaccinated. The new mandate will impact about 148,000 DOE workers, according to officials.
” We know that [the mandate] is going to keep everyone safe,” de Blasio said adding that his administration would now begin bargaining with city labor unions on how to roll out the mandate. Neither the mayor nor Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter expressed worries over the mandate prompting resignations among teachers uncomfortable receiving the vaccine.
The UFT seems to be on board with the decision, but potentially with caveats, with the union’s president Michael Mulgrew issuing a statement touting the high rate of vaccination that already exists among public school teachers.
“Our first priority is keeping our kids safe and the schools open. The city’s teachers have led the way on this issue, with the great majority already vaccinated,” said Mulgrew in a statement. “While the city is asserting its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many implementation details, including provisions for medical exceptions, that by law must be negotiated with the UFT and other unions, and if necessary, resolved by arbitration.”
Monday’s announcement means that New York City has joined the ranks of Chicago and Los Angeles which have all recently issued COVID-19 vaccine mandates for public school teachers.
The policy is the most recent step by Mayor de Blasio to ensure the health and safety of all adults and children returning to classrooms amid fears over the coronavirus’ more aggressive delta variant. “There is just no doubt about the urgency of this measure when delta continues to rage nationally,” said Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Health Mark Levine who joined the mayor during the press conference via Zoom. ” Even in a city that where vaccination is as far along as it is in New York City, delta still finds a way to spread… we have to push harder to get everyone the life-saving benefit of vaccination.”
De Blasio reported Monday 1,688 new cases of the virus based on a seven-day rolling average, a hospitalization rate of 1.36% per 100,000 New Yorkers, and 131 new patients with potential COVID-19 with about 50 of those patients testing positive for the virus.
News of the mandate coincides with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 16 years of age and older which officials will help encourage unvaccinated staffers and vaccine eligible students to get the inoculation. Responding to a question from a reporter, de Blasio noted that the City does not currently have plans to issue a vaccine mandate for public school students 12 and older who are eligible to get the vaccine.
“We are going to move heaven and earth to these next weeks to get our students 12 years old and up vaccinated,” de Blasio said. ” We are seeing a great response from our young people and our parents and we are going to make sure we do that with every tool we’ve got but not through a mandate.”
Prior to Monday, all COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization and the Pfizer vaccine being the only inoculation with an EUA for children 12 and up.
The first day of classes is in three weeks which does not allow for unvaccinated staffers to be fully vaccinated by the time classes start unless they take the Johnson&Johnson vaccine which is a single dose and which begins to provide protection 15 days after being administered.
Most of the unvaccinated will remain so into the first month of classes which means COVID-19 testing will need to take place in schools. Last week, the mayor promised to release details on the City’s school testing policy —whether or not schools in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates will be required to undergo testing more frequently—the week of Monday, Aug. 23 but has yet to do so.
Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, did not provide details on school testing except that “in many instances” the department will provide testing kits to public school families.
DOE employees will be required to upload proof of vaccination into a “vaccine portal” launched earlier this month by Sept. 27, officials added.