As part of a nationwide response to the threat of the more contagious strain of Delta coronavirus, New York City will require COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly tests for employees at city hospitals and clinics.
The new policy will go into effect on Aug. 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Wednesday. The city will suspend without payment any employee who refuses to be vaccinated or tested.
“Because of the Delta variant, it is increasingly becoming the choice between infection or vaccination, and that can mean the difference between life and death,” Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said at the same briefing.
About 60% of the more than 42,000 employees of New York City’s public hospital system have been vaccinated, Mitch Katz, who heads the nation’s largest public health system, said Wednesday. In New York City, 70% of hospital staff have received both doses of the vaccine, state data shows.
The percentage of New York public hospital employees who are fully vaccinated is also lower than the percentage of the city’s adult population, which stands at 65%, city health data shows.
The requirement marks the first time City Hall has mandated vaccinations or negative tests for public sector workers.
In California, San Francisco took more decisive steps last month when it announced that all municipal workers in “high-risk” settings such as homeless shelters and prisons must be vaccinated by September 15.
De Blasio said New York could take further action if the threat from the Delta variant grows. He did not rule out expanding vaccination or testing requirements for all city workers in the future.
The highly contagious Delta strain that originated in India and has now become the dominant strain worldwide has wreaked havoc among the country’s unvaccinated population in recent weeks.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week that 97% of people who enter hospitals in the United States with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
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Dozens of hospitals and health systems across the United States have issued vaccination requirements for their staff.
Last month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of employees at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas over demands that they be vaccinated against COVID-19.
A major New Jersey medical system has fired half a dozen workers for not being vaccinated against COVID-19, according to media reports published Tuesday.
Several low-vaccination states, such as Utah, Arkansas and Louisiana, are again facing outbreaks, with some hospitals warning that they are being overwhelmed by the influx of COVID-19 patients.
“We have an alarming spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Houston area,” Patti Muck, a spokesperson for Texas’ Houston Methodist, said in an email earlier this week. “The increased hospital admissions are stressing many of our hospitals approaching capacity.”
The number of coronavirus cases has nearly tripled in the past month and hospitalizations have increased by nearly 40%, according to an analysis of data from Reuters. The number of deaths, which may lag other indicators, fell by 14% over the same period.