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Janey announces vaccine mandate for city workers

Avery Bleichfeld
Janey announces vaccine mandate for city workers
Acting Mayor Kim Janey announces new vaccination requirements for city workers. AVERY BLEICHFELD PHOTO

Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal employees at a press conference Thursday.

The mandate, which will take effect at the end of August, will require all city employees submit proof of vaccination or get tested regularly.

“The data show the vaccine is the best way to protect ourselves from the virus,” Janey said.

A secure portal for city employees to submit proof of vaccination will be open Aug. 30. Public-facing employees who work with high priority populations, such as employees at Boston Public Schools, the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, Boston Public Libraries, Age Strong and the Commission on Disabilities must show proof of vaccination by Sept. 20. All other public-facing employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 4 and all municipal employees, as well as onsite contractors and volunteers, must submit proof by Oct. 18. Unvaccinated city employees will have to submit negative COVID-19 test results weekly.

The mandate comes after weeks of discussions with labor leaders as well as city cabinet chiefs and department heads.

“All of us share the goal of a healthy workforce,” Janey said. “And we will continue to engage managers and workers in the coming weeks as we implement this policy.”

In recent weeks, the city has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases as the city faces increased spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

Despite the increased numbers, Janey said, the city is not yet at a place of concern.

“Today, the average number of people with COVID in Boston hospitals is just 68,” Janey said. “By comparison, the average number of people with COVID in the hospital in early May, when we began to reopen the city, was twice as high at 127. … Even with the increase in COVID activity, we are well below the established thresholds for hospital capacity.”

According to a dashboard managed by the city of Boston’s Analytics Team, the threshold for COVID-19 hospitalizations is 200.

Requiring vaccines is intended to keep the city from more concerning levels of COVID-19 spread, Janey said.

“We need to ensure that our hospital capacity — which is our capacity to save people’s lives — remains below the threshold,” Janey said. “The best way to do that is by getting people vaccinated.”

The mandate does not extend to employees of private businesses, nor does it mean residents of Boston will necessarily have to show proof of vaccination to enter businesses. Janey said she encourages other employers to take steps to protect their workforce and the people they serve, but she said she doesn’t want to prevent people from accessing services, especially given that vaccination numbers remain lower in communities of color.

“To suggest that half of Black residents couldn’t go to a grocery store I think is insane,” Janey said. “So, instead we are prioritizing them, meeting them where they are, partnering with our community health centers, with all of our partners who receive the Vaccine Equity Grant. We are investing in people and programs that work. We want everyone in our city to get vaccinated, and it is so important — this is our best hope at beating this pandemic.”

Other mayoral candidates weighed in on Janey’s decisions on vaccination and mask requirements.

In a statement on Twitter, mayoral candidate and District 4 City Councilor Andrea Campbell said Janey’s claims about anyone endorsing requiring residents to show vaccination to enter private businesses are misleading.

“It’s about time Acting Mayor Janey decided to require vaccinations for city employees, which, given the rising infection rate in Boston, is the type of decision that should take hours or days — not weeks,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately, the acting mayor is once again spreading misinformation about the vaccine by saying that proof of vaccination would be required to shop in a grocery store. No one has suggested that for Boston, and this wasn’t part of the policy implemented in New York City. Misinformation like this erodes trust in our public health system and will likely prevent people from getting vaccinated.”

Mayoral candidate and At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu called for proof of vaccination for some indoor spaces.

“I’m glad the administration has finally answered the call to mandate vaccines for city workers — but at a time when the Delta variant is surging, we need more than half measures,” Wu said in a statement released on social media. “City Hall must set out regulations on vaccination for high-risk indoor spaces like gyms, salons, and restaurants to ensure protection for all communities.”

John Barros, another candidate for mayor, said he called for vaccination or testing of city employees nearly two weeks ago. In a statement released on social media platforms, he said more action should be taken.

“Acting Mayor Janey has waited long enough to provide public health guidance with the Delta variant surging while only 61% or Bostonians are fully vaccinated,” Barros said. “I urge the Acting Mayor to follow the lead of municipalities like Belmont, Salem and Provincetown, and businesses like AEG concerts and our local museums in instituting a mask mandate. If the Acting Mayor won’t lead, I call on Governor Baker to act. As of this week, we’ve seen over 100 new cases of COVID-19 a day in Boston. We need to do everything to protect the health of residents and workers, while keeping our economy open.”