With more than 90% of all municipal employees complying with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that took effect Monday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the holdouts to “do the right thing,” get the first dose and come back to work quickly.
Unvaccinated workers were told Monday morning to go home on unpaid leave until they finally roll up their sleeves and get the shot. The bulk of them seemed to come from the FDNY firefighters ranks, were more than 2,000 unvaccinated smoke-eaters were sent home Monday, pending their receipt of the vaccine.
During a press conference on Nov. 1, de Blasio noted that 12,074,742 vaccine doses have been administered, with 698 cases reported and 91 hospitalized.
“We’ve said it so clearly, vaccination is the key to our recovery,” said de Blasio. “Bringing back New York City and recovery depends on vaccination. From the very beginning, I’ve said it’s up to you, New York, it’s up to New Yorkers to get it right, and New Yorkers have answered the call.”
The total of New York City workers that have been vaccinated is currently at 91%. Since the announcement of the mandate on Oct. 29, 22,472 new vaccinations have been reported among city employees over the weekend. The mayor cited the mandate as the reason why city agencies such as the Department of Education and the New York City Health + Hospitals system have 95 % and 96% vaccination rates, respectively.
“We want everyone to do the right thing and get vaccinated,” said de Blasio. “Anyone who hasn’t yet so far, there’s a chance to fix it. Come in, get vaccinated, come back to work, because we need everyone to do their job and we need everyone to be safe.”
The NYPD is at a vaccination rate of 84%, while the FDNY Fire personnel is at 77% and EMS personnel at 88%. The Department of Sanitation vaccination rates has also increased to 83%.
Despite the mandates, 9,000 city employees have not yet been vaccinated and have been placed on leave without as of Nov. 1, which is less than 6% of the entire city workforce at 378,000.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea noted that only 34 police officers have been placed on unpaid leave. The remaining 12,000 unvaccinated city workers have applied for medical or religious exemption, which will be worked on in the coming days.
The mayor expects that there will not be any disruptions to city services as a result, and further emphasized that the mandate was called for.
“This mandate was the right thing to do, and the proof is in the pudding,” said de Blasio. “We now see it worked.”
Pushback from the Bravest
Fire Department unions have been pushing back on the mandate, with many complaining that they were given only nine days to comply. When asked about this, the mayor stated that though the city did call on others to get vaccinated first, there was still time for FDNY employees to get vaccinated.
“There was lots of time for people to think about this. We had the phase of vaccinate or test, there was lots of time, and lots of incentives,” said de Blasio. “But it’s been quite clear this was the direction we’re going in, and it’s the right thing to do.”
“Back in December of last year, we fought hard to get to the front of the line, as we should be, and offer the vaccine. We opened our sites to vaccinate people,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “So for 10 months, every member of this department has had every opportunity to be vaccinated, as they should have been.”
Both de Blasio and Nigro reiterated that any FDNY member that has been placed on unpaid leave due to being unvaccinated can come back to work once they get vaccinated.
The mayor said that, as far as he knows, the city isn’t seeing this trend elsewhere. However, de Blasio urged city workers that may be calling in sick when they aren’t sick to get vaccinated and come back to work.
“People get really troubled really quick when people don’t show up to do their job if they’re not really sick, and we have every reason to believe there’s a lot of people claiming to be sick who are not and it’s not acceptable,” said de Blasio. “So the thing to do is to do the right thing, come to work, protect people, as you took an oath to do.”
Even so, the Uniformed Firefighters Associated (UFA) tweeted on Monday that a number of fire operations had been impacted, including Engine Company 294 in Queens.
Upon visiting the firehouse on Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill on Monday afternoon, amNewYork Metro learned that the engine company members had been sent home because they were not vaccinated. Yet the firehouse itself remained open, as Ladder Company 143 was still in operation, with members on call.
In the meantime, Engine Company 292 — normally stationed in Woodside, about five miles away — parked its truck outside the firehouse, as its members are now covering for the absent Engine 294, sources told amNewYork Metro.
The Fire Department merely confirmed that Engine 294 was “out of service,” with Engine 292 filling in. No timetable was provided for Engine 294’s return.
At a pre-dawn briefing, UFA President Andrew Ansbro predicted that dozens of fire companies would shut because of staff shortages and urged the city to give his members more time to comply, NY1 TV reported.
Even so, Ansbro added, “this is not a city in crisis.”
With reporting by Robert Pozarycki and Reuters