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‘It’s Smart, It’s Fair’

NY To Require State Workers To Get Vaccines

After months of coaxing people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 with incentives like museum tickets and transit passes, New York City is sweetening the pot by offering $100 to any city resident who gets a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine at a city-run site, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. AP photo

ALBANY — New York will require all state employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus by Labor Day or undergo weekly tests for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The announcement was promptly criticized by Chautauqua County’s representative in the New York State Senate.

In mandating either the shots, or frequent testing for government workers, Cuomo is following on the heels of California and New York City, which announced similar policies for employees earlier this week. The governor called on local governments across New York to follow suit.

“It’s smart, it’s fair and it’s in everyone’s interest,” he said in a Zoom call with the nonprofit Association for a Better New York.

New York, like other states, has seen a rising number of coronavirus cases linked to the Delta variant. New infections have climbed more than 400% since the end of June, and hospitalizations have jumped 68% over the past two weeks.

“What we’re seeing is a pandemic among those unvaccinated people, but it affects everyone,” Cuomo said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at New York's Yankee Stadium, Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Cuomo said COVID-19 vaccines would be mandatory for “front-line” workers at state-owned hospitals. Those employees would not be able to avoid inoculations by undergoing weekly virus testing. The state runs hospitals in Syracuse and New York City and on Long Island.

New York state regulations already require hospital workers to be vaccinated against measles and rubella.

The Cuomo administration said about 130,000 state employees would be affected. That’s fewer than the 256,500 people listed in New York state payroll system data. It was not immediately clear if the mandate would cover employees outside of executive agencies, like state court workers.

The Democrat said his administration still needed to speak with union officials about how to implement the policy. Some unions representing government workers in New York City have objected to the “get vaccinated or get tested” mandate there, which is set to take effect in mid-September.

CSEA President Mary Sullivan, whose union represents New York state and local government workers, said it supports Cuomo’s vaccination policy: “(W)e cannot slide backwards now or we put our members, workers, our families, children and all of us at greater risk.”

This summer, the state’s public university system launched its own vaccinate-or-test policy for employees, according to SUNY spokesperson Leo Rosales.

United University Professions president Fred Kowal said the additional mandate for some state hospital workers announced by Cuomo would have to be negotiated, “which I am willing to negotiate.”

Republicans blasted Cuomo’s announcement. George Borrello, a frequent critic of the governor, said the mandate was “outrageous, unconstitutional and more about muscle-flexing than public health.”

In a statement, the Sunset Bay Republican said, “State workers, many of whom were on the front lines helping New York state get through the extraordinary challenges of the pandemic, don’t deserve to be bullied into being vaccinated. Coercing people into taking such a step against their will represents a gross violation of our fundamental freedoms and isn’t supported by the science.

“I hope that the unions representing state workers will stand up against this dictatorial move and support their dues-paying members 100%.”

Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about who will pay for testing for unvaccinated workers, potential penalties for unwilling workers, and whether workers at state-run veterans homes must get vaccinated.

Cuomo urged school districts to consider vaccination-or-testing policies if numbers keep increasing.

“A school can become a superspreader,” he said. “We’ve seen that too many times in the past.”

That’s a shift from last fall, when Cuomo and other New York officials said the available data suggested schools weren’t driving COVID-19 infection.

While overall rates of infection in New York remain much lower than they were over the winter, the voluntary vaccination campaign here has stalled, as it has in much of the U.S.

About 56.7% of 20 million residents are fully vaccinated.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that New York City will sweeten the pot by offering $100 to any city resident who gets a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine at a city-run site.

New York City and the state have already offered vaccination incentives including lottery tickets, scholarships, free subway rides and complimentary tickets to museums, sports games and other attractions.

Other locales, including the state of New Mexico and the city of Gadsden, Alabama, also have offered $100 cash payments. Others have offered a more limited version — Ohio is offering $100 gift cards to Medicaid members who get inoculated, and West Virginia is providing $100 savings bonds to 16-to-35-year-olds who do so.

President Joe Biden is considering requiring federal employees to show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing and wear a mask. A growing number of hospitals and nursing homes across the U.S. have been mandating vaccines for workers.

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