Bill de Blasio

Mask Up: NYC Mandates Weekly Testing for Unvaccinated City Workers Amid Delta Fears

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What to Know

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio has expanded New York City's current vaccine-or-weekly COVID test mandate to include all city workers
  • The new policy begins with city employees who work in congregate settings first. The plan will be phased in, with the full city workforce expected to follow on Sept. 13
  • The news comes after Dr. Fauci on Sunday warned of possible new CDC mask guidance and a top Biden official confirming the U.S. will maintain existing foreign travel restrictions

Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded New York City's vaccine mandate to include all city workers on Monday. Starting this fall, employees who have not provided proof of COVID-19 vaccination must test weekly for the virus.

Unvaccinated workers will have until Sept. 13 to complete their vaccine series or opt for a virus test each week. But before that deadline kicks in, the mayor said unvaccinated workers must wear a mask at work starting Aug. 2.

The new vaccine mandate begins with city employees who work in congregate settings. That group, roughly 45,000 workers, will have to start testing weekly if they have not received their dose of the vaccine by Aug. 16.

"This is about our recovery. This is about keeping people safe, making sure our families get through COVID okay," de Blasio said. "September is the pivot point of the recovery, September is when many employers are bringing back a lot of their employees. It's when schools start full-strength, it's when people come back from summer."

The city plans to launch a new app to track COVID testing results. Set to launch for both iPhones and Androids, the app will hold testing results for up to seven days (meeting the city's new weekly mandate) before expiring. All data lives on an individual's phone and is not delivered anywhere else, city officials explained.

Because the app is available publicly in app stores, it's also up for grabs to other groups in New York City. The mayor said any local employers or venues can use the app for employees or patrons.

The news comes less than a week after the mayor announced a policy that requires workers in New York City-run hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or get tested weekly as the highly contagious delta variant fuels alarming increases in daily cases.

Some New York City public school sites will offer vaccination starting Monday. NBC New York's Tracie Strahan reports.

De Blasio on Friday urged the city's private sector businesses to institute vaccine requirements for their employees, saying the “limits of a purely voluntary system" have been reached.

“If people want freedom, if people want jobs, if people want to live again, we have got to get more people vaccinated and obviously, it’s time for whatever mandates we can achieve," he told WNYC's host Brian Lehrer.

“Any form of mandate, including the type we’re doing, you know, the either/or approach, any type of mandate helps," he said. “It will move the ball. It will get more people vaccinated. It will change consciousness."

Positive COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled throughout New York in the past week as vaccinations slow. The highly transmissible delta variant has been the most dominant COVID-19 strain in New York City and cases have soared from about a quarter of tested positive samples to nearly 60% in just two weeks -- and virtually every important infection metric in the city is getting worse too.

The increase led to De Blasio's latest vaccine mandate and he said he'd like to see private hospitals implement similar policies as well.

Meanwhile, the mayor has repeatedly said he would not consider reinstating an indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people even as other major cities like Los Angeles do so in an effort to curb the rapid spread of the delta variant.

Unions representing city workers offered mixed responses to the new mandate affecting their members.

“Vaccination and testing have helped keep schools among the safest places in the city," the United Federation of Teachers said in a statement. "This approach puts the emphasis on vaccination but still allows for personal choice and provides additional safeguards through regular testing.”

But Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37 of AFSCME, said, “If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain."

Positive COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled throughout New York in the past week as vaccinations slow, the highly contagious delta variant spreads and public officials look at the possibility of requiring masks indoors again. NBC New York's Phil Lipof reports.

Garrido, whose union represents about 100,000 New York City employees across several departments, said weekly testing is subject to mandatory bargaining.

“New York City is a union town and that cannot be ignored,” he said in a statement.

Asked about Garrido's statement, de Blasio said the city has a right to require that its workforce gets vaccinated or tested.

“When it comes to the health and safety of our workers in the midst of a global pandemic, we have the right, as employers, to take urgent action to protect people’s health, to protect their lives,” he said.

Daily COVID-19 infections in the state of New York have soared 327% since June 25, with most of the illnesses occurring among unvaccinated people. Over the past seven days, more than 5,400 new infections have been reported in New York City.

De Blasio was asked about a move by the French government to require people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter spaces like restaurants and other public places.

He said, “That’s a direction we need to seriously consider."

The delta threat has top officials in the Biden administration worried about current safety measures and discussing the possibility of adjusting masks guidance, even for Americans fully vaccinated.

The United States is in an "unnecessary predicament" of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday.

"We’re going in the wrong direction,’’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci, describing himself as "very frustrated.”

He said recommending that vaccinated people wear masks is "under active consideration’’ by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said.

One administration official is confirming that the U.S. will maintain existing foreign travel restrictions, “given where we are today with the Delta variant," NBC News reported Monday morning.

The official says that the administration “understands the importance of international travel and is united in wanting to reopen international travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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