Boston will require all 18,000 city workers to show proof that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing, Acting Mayor Kim Janey said Thursday, joining other major employers instituting workplace mandates as virus cases once again rise.
“Our purpose is to protect our employees and the public, and our work is rooted in public health guidance and based on data and science,” Janey said in a statement announcing the decision, which had become a matter of contentious debate in recent weeks as her political opponents and some community leaders called for quicker action.
The mandate, which applies to all city employees, onsite contractors, and volunteers at city work sites, will be phased in over two months. Employees who provide services for high-priority residents, including those in the public schools, public libraries, the Age Strong office, and the Commission on Disabilities, must comply by Sept. 20. Volunteers and on-site contractors at those offices must comply by Oct. 4.
All other city employees and on-site contractors and volunteers must comply by Oct. 18.
The mandate appears to have the blessing of the city’s largest union, the Boston Teachers Union.
“We applaud Mayor Janey for proactively taking action to ensure the safety of students, the safety of educators, and the safety of the public,” said Jessica Tang, the union president.
However, Tang said the union expects to work with the Janey administration “on the particulars of implementation in regards to accommodations and exemptions for those who need them.”
The head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, Larry Calderone, said police officers “most assuredly understand and respect the dangers of COVID-19,” though the union signaled that discussions on the requirement will continue.
”Protecting our members, their families and the citizens of Boston is, of course, our priority,” he said. “And, be it vaccination or rigorous testing, we look forward to sitting down with Mayor Janey to further discuss the best and most effective ways to protect everyone on a daily basis.”
Representatives from other unions, including the Boston Firefighters Local 718, did not respond to requests for comment.
Janey’s announcement came as two major cultural institutions — the Museum of Science and the Children’s Museum — announced that they will require their employees and volunteers, totaling several hundred, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Boch Center, which manages the Wang and Shubert theaters, had already said it would require all administrative staff members, as well as ushers, security personnel, stagehands, and vendors, to be vaccinated.
In Washington, D.C., the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said it is “likely” that all Americans who have received a COVID-19 vaccine will need a booster shot at some point in the future. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to soon broaden its emergency-use authorization for the two-dose regimens made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to allow people with compromised immune systems to get a third shot.
The announcement came amid a growing public debate over vaccination mandates in the public and private sectors, and as the highly contagious Delta variant fuels infections around the country, even in states such as Massachusetts with high vaccination rates.
The Baker administration reported Thursday that Massachusetts had 1,228 new confirmed cases and 10 additional deaths, numbers that remain above the pandemic lows the state experienced at the beginning of the summer. Those new figures bring the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 684,836, and total fatalities to 17,761.
In her announcement Thursday, Janey alluded to the worsening numbers, with Boston experiencing more than 100 new cases a day, and the positivity rate within the city now at 4 percent. She emphasized that vaccinations remain key to the city’s battle against the pandemic.
“We are a highly vaccinated city, and one of the most highly vaccinated states in the country,” she said. “Vaccinations are critical.”
As of Thursday, nearly 68 percent of Boston residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, she said.
Still, her political opponents urged her to do more, at a time when San Francisco and New York City recently announced broader vaccination requirements for anyone entering indoor public gathering spaces such as bars, restaurants, and gyms.
Boston’s City Council, which has its own staff, had already implemented a vaccination or testing requirement for its employees.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is running for mayor against Janey and was among the first to challenge the acting mayor to impose the requirement on city workers, called on her to do more, including a vaccination mandate for those gathering in indoor public spaces.
Campbell said Janey’s announcement Thursday “is the type of decision that should take hours or days — not weeks.” She also said Janey has spread “misinformation” about the vaccine requirements established in other cities, pointing to Janey’s statement Thursday that implied other cities were requiring grocery store shoppers to prove vaccination, which she opposes. (There is no such requirement in other cities for grocery store workers.)
“Misinformation like this erodes trust in our public health system and will likely prevent people from getting vaccinated,” Campbell said in a statement.
Another mayoral candidate, Councilor Michelle Wu, joined a group of restaurant owners Wednesday urging the city to adopt vaccination mandates for gathering in public spaces. “We need more than half-measures . . . to ensure protections for all our communities,” she said.
“This is overdue,” added John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development, who is also running. “In order to end this pandemic we need to focus on building trust in the vaccine and getting shots in arms.”
Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, also a candidate, added, “The city of Boston should lead the way and ensure all employees are vaccinated or face weekly testing.”
When asked about the criticisms Thursday, Janey shrugged them off. “I’m not going to politicize the pandemic,” she told reporters.
Last week, Janeycaused a stir when she invoked the slave era in her opposition to a “vaccine passport” requirement like those established in New York City and San Francisco. She later backtracked on the slavery comparison, but reiterated her opposition to the concept on Thursday.
While Boston had not been tracking employees’ vaccination status previously, Janey said that beginning Aug. 30, all employees will be able to upload their information into an online portal, and that those who do not show proof of vaccination must submit to testing every seven days.
The city is offering free vaccinations and testing at City Hall and neighborhood sites, and employees may take up to an hour of paid leave during work time to get vaccinated or tested. And, the city is offering an incentive: Employees who verify their full vaccination status will be automatically entered into a weekly lottery with a chance at winning an extra week of paid time off.
Read the full story from The Boston Globe.