Unvaccinated People Who Work in These 3 States Could Be Fired This Week
Those who work in health care settings are facing deadlines that run out this week.
Ever since vaccination rates started slowing over the summer, officials on both a local and national level have been enforcing rules to try to get more people in the U.S. vaccinated against COVID-19. The biggest change came when President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 9 that many businesses would have to require vaccines, or offer a testing option, in order for employees to work in person. Now, these new mandates could have massive consequences for workers in a few states as soon as this coming week. If people working in certain settings don't get vaccinated by the states' deadlines that expire this week, they could face unpaid leave, or worse, the loss of their jobs entirely.
Monday, Sept. 27, is the deadline for a New York state directive that requires hospital and nursing home employees in the state to have gotten at least one shot of a COVID vaccine in order to work in person. The Health Department in New York issued an emergency order on Aug. 26 announcing the vaccination mandate for health care workers, giving them a month to get at least one shot.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Thursday, Sept. 23 that that deadline is firm. "If you're a health care worker, Monday is a big day," she said. "What is looming for Monday is completely avoidable, and there's no excuses." Weekly testing is not being offered as an alternative and while there are limited medical exemptions being granted, which are left to an employers' discretion, religious exemptions are not on the table.
Similarly, California is requiring its health care workers to be fully vaccinated by Wednesday, Sept. 30. While the Golden State is going a step further by requiring full vaccination, which was announced on Aug. 5, officials are allowing both medical and religious exemptions.
Maine also has a similar mandate that will go into effect on Thursday, Oct. 1, but it won't be enforced until later next month, on Oct. 29. "Vaccinations are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people and to curb this pandemic," Gov. Janet T. Mills said in a statement when announcing the news on Aug. 12. "Health care workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine people, and it is imperative that they take every precaution against this dangerous virus, especially given the threat of the highly transmissible Delta variant. With this requirement, we are protecting health care workers, their patients, including our most vulnerable, and our health care capacity."
The New York Times reports that thousands of people will be out of the job due to New York's mandate. The Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York may soon fire about 400 employees who have chosen not to get vaccinated, and NewYork-Presbyterian, New York City's largest private hospital network, could terminate about 250 employees who are unvaccinated. Officials at Northwell Health, New York's largest health care system, might have to let go of about 2,000 people who haven't gotten their shots or applied for exemptions, as of Friday, Sept. 24. The company's chief of human resources told the outlet that only a small number of employees are being approved for medical exemptions, like those who have allergies, noting that being pregnant or breastfeeding does not qualify.
Religious exemptions, however, have become a challenge in New York. An Aug. 18 order, issued under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allowed religious exemptions, and some hospitals granted them as a result, like NewYork-Presbyterian, which approved 129 religious exemptions. But the hospital had to withdraw those after the state's policy changed a week later, according to court documents reviewed by The Times.
Due to the confusion and controversy surrounding religious exemptions, there have been several lawsuits accusing New York of violating the First Amendment and discriminating on the basis of religion. The result of those lawsuits remains to be seen: on Oct. 12, a federal judge in Utica will make a ruling, but for now, there's a temporary restraining order preventing New York from enforcing the vaccination mandate on those seeking religious exemptions.
Health care facilities, hospitals especially, are concerned that the strict mandates could leave them understaffed while COVID numbers are still high. "This is creating an unprecedented crisis for us," Tom Quatroche, the president of the Erie County Medical Center Corporation, told The New York Times. "For all the right reasons, the vaccine mandate was put in place. But the reality is it is creating a public health crisis in hospitals, with nobody to care for patients."
Nursing homes in particular have been facing staffing problems and the vaccination rates among these workers are lower than those in other health care settings. Because of that, The Times reports, the New York State Health Facilities Association, which represents about 250 nursing homes, has asked New York state officials to allow unvaccinated nursing home employees to keep working if they're willing to get tested regularly. "While we are striving for 100 percent, we do not feel we will achieve that by Monday," Stephen Hanse, the association's president, told the outlet.
However, the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents about 200 health care systems and nursing homes, told The Times they support the deadline. "The mandate is the best way to ensure the safest possible patient care environment and protect the public's health," Kenneth E. Raske, the association's president, said in a statement to the newspaper.
In addition to the mandate affecting health care workers across the state of New York, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has required that virtually all public school workers get at least one shot, a deadline that was also set for midnight on Monday. Those who chose not to get vaccinated were told they'd be allowed one year of unpaid leave and could keep their health insurance for that time period.
But late Friday, an appeals court judge granted a temporary injunction and referred the case to a three-judge panel, putting the mandate on pause. Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson told the Associated Press (AP) they expect this to be resolved on Wednesday, Sept. 29. "We're confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve," she told the AP.
At some workplaces, the looming mandates do seem to be upping vaccination rates. At St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, for example, about 12 percent of employees had not been vaccinated as of midday on Friday, Chief Medical Officer Eric Appelbaum told The Times. But, he said, there had been a sharp uptick in vaccinations since Wednesday.