(WETM/AP) – New York City will require workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or get tested weekly under a policy announced Wednesday to battle a rise in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. In Upstate New York, no mandate has been made at this point and local healthcare experts say increasing testing may be a positive moving forward.
“It might depend upon how the rest of the summer goes in terms of how our numbers are in relation to any increase,” Darlene Smith, Steuben County Health Director, said. “Testing is not a bad practice to institute and just to try to pick up some of those many you know unexpected or unknown positive cases.”
What is the situation in New York City?
Publicly employed nurses, doctors, social workers, custodians, and registrars will be covered under the order from New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is not applying the same requirement just yet to teachers, police officers, and other city employees. But the effort dovetails into the city’s intense focus on vaccinations amid a slowdown in doses and an increase in delta variant infections.
“Because of the delta variant, increasingly the choice is between infection or vaccination. And that can mean the difference between life and death,” Chokshi said at a briefing with de Blasio.
The number of vaccine doses being given out daily in the city has dropped to less than 18,000, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in early April. About 65% of all adults are fully vaccinated, but the inoculation rate is around 25% among Black adults under age 45. About 45% of the workforce in the city’s public hospital system is Black.
Meanwhile, caseloads have been rising in the city for weeks and health officials say the variant makes up about 7 in 10 cases they sequence.
De Blasio said the weekly testing rule could encourage more health care workers to get vaccinated.
The order, effective Aug. 2, will cover the roughly 42,000 people who work in the city’s public hospital system, which includes 11 hospitals as well as nursing homes and clinics. The policy also will cover some employees of the city’s Health Department.
San Francisco last month announced a more dramatic step of requiring city workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus when a vaccine receives full federal approval.
De Blasio did not rule out expanding the vaccinate-or-test requirement to other city workers. And he said he hoped public and private health systems nationwide would emulate the city’s policy.
The New York-Presbyterian hospital system in June announced that it will require its 48,000 employees to be vaccinated unless they have a valid exemption.
“This is the first step in fighting back,” de Blasio said. “Everyone can do this now and everyone should do this now to save lives.”