The Delta variant is shifting the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing back mask mandates, capacity limits and changing how people work.
While the variant is shifting things back to the early days of the pandemic in 2020, the COVID-19 vaccine is now part of the equation creating a controversial situation. While vaccines continue being pushed, those who remain resistant are now being given a choice: get the shot or suffer the consequences.
Currently, 54.3% of New York City residents are fully vaccinated. As of Tuesday, 9.8 million vaccine shots have been given. The seven-day rolling average of people testing citywide positive for COVID-19 is at 2.37. A month ago the average was 0.57. The Delta variant now accounts for 72% of COVID-19 cases in New York.
On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its mask mandate in parts of the country seeing high infection rates. The CDC reiterated its message that vaccines are effective against the Delta variant; however, rare breakthrough cases are still possible. Vaccinated people who get COVID have experienced minor symptoms and can be contagious.
“In areas with substantial and time transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variants and protect others,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.
The agency is also recommending a universal mask mandate for schools across the nation in the fall. With seven weeks to go until the start of the school year, students and teachers are required to wear masks in public schools. Several states have banned mask mandates in schools.
COVID-19 vaccinations were made available to eligible students, parents and community members at 25 Summer Rising sites across the city starting this week. The campaign is aimed at getting more young people and Department of Education employees vaccinated. Vaccinations will be available through Aug. 13.
“Schools promote the health of children and families, so it is fitting that vaccines be available to the communities they serve,” Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said in a statement. “The Vaccine for All campaign is excited to greet children returning to school this summer and we’re grateful for the Department of Education’s partnership.”
The DOE stated that students must be 12 years old and older to receive the Pfizer vaccine, and minors must have verbal consent from a parent at the time of the shot, and verbal consent can be given in-person or over the phone. Minors who are 15 and younger must be accompanied by an adult, while 16 and 17 year olds can be unaccompanied at the time of receiving the vaccination.
Citywide vaccination rates for kids 12-17 is 44% with at least one dose. Approximately 60% of DOE employees have at least one dose, not including those who live and were vaccinated outside of New York City.
“Every single fully vaccinated person is a step towards making our city whole again, and we’re excited to work with our healthcare partners to make vaccinations easily available to eligible students, parents and community members,” said Chancellor Meisha Porter. “We encourage all families to get their 12-17-year-old their first dose by August 9 at our fun Summer Rising locations across the city so they are fully vaccinated by the start of the new school year.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that all city health workers will be required to get vaccinated or must get a weekly COVID test. That policy was expanded this week to include all 340,000 city workers including police officers, firefighters and teachers. City employees have until Sept. 13, the first day of public school, to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Unvaccinated city workers will be required to wear masks indoors. Employees who do not get vaccinated or get tested weekly will not be allowed to work and they won’t get paid, according to the mayor.
“We’re just not going to tolerate unvaccinated city employees doing the wrong thing,” de Blasio said. “We will not tolerate any decision to do otherwise, because this is about protecting people’s health and wellbeing. If someone is not wearing their mask, they will be removed from the workplace.”
Earlier this week, de Blasio urged private businesses to require COVID-19 vaccines for employees. While it probably won’t be mandatory for everyone to get vaccinated, the legality of a company requiring vaccinations does come to mind.
Can an employer require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine and reprimand them if they don’t? Civil rights attorney Joshua Blane of the Gray Law Firm says companies can with some caveats.
“An employer is still bound by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) meaning if an employee has a doctor’s note or a disability that would make them not a candidate for vaccination, the employer is obligated to provide them with a reasonable accommodation. That all depends on the type of business the employee is engaged in.”
Blane said the other exception is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that permits employees to seek exemptions based on religious beliefs, which includes strongly held moral or ethical objections. In either case, an employer must accommodate the employee by allowing them to work alternatively from home, for example, or a separate workspace.