What to Know
- All workers at NYC-run health care facilities and hospitals will be required to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests, city hall sources told News 4
- Mayor Bill de Blasio will release details regarding the requirement on Wednesday, sources said, with the plan aimed at the one-third of all health care and hospital workers in the city still not vaccinated
- Despite COVID rates climbing back up, the mayor earlier on Tuesday hinted that a new approach was in the works, but made it clear he was not looking at bringing back an indoor mask mandate
New York City will require all workers at city-run health care facilities and hospitals to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests, with positivity rates continuing to tick upward as the delta variant spreads, City Hall officials told NBC New York.
Mayor Bill de Blasio will release details regarding the requirement at his regular 10 a.m. news conference on Wednesday, sources said. The plan is aimed at the one-third of all health care and hospital workers in the city still not vaccinated.
"It's all about the safety of a health care setting," said Bill Neidhardt, the mayor's press secretary.
The mayor's spokesman said that beginning in August, all staff at the city's eleven public hospitals — such as Harlem Hospital, Bellevue Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital — must either provide one-time proof that they have gotten the vaccine, or will have to submit to mandatory weekly COVID testing to ensure they are negative before reporting to work. The policy will also apply to workers who see patients at health department clinics.
City Health + Hospitals officials said just 58 percent of the staff at their facilities are vaccinated, and said the new measure will be done to protect patients and staff from the delta variant.
Despite COVID rates climbing back up, the mayor earlier on Tuesday hinted that a new approach was in the works, but made it clear he was not looking at bringing back an indoor mask mandate.
Rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in under-vaccinated neighborhoods threatens to undercut the nation's — and New York City's — pandemic progress. Calls have grown in the last few weeks for elected officials to reinstate indoor mask mandates to shield the millions of Americans who haven't yet been immunized.
For more than a month straight, New York had reported sustained declines in new COVID infections as well as fewer hospitalizations and deaths, but lately, new daily case counts have surged past 1,000, up significantly from the roughly 300 to 400 new cases a day that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was reporting just a month ago.
In New York City, the rolling new case average is up more than 64% over the weekly average the four weeks prior as of Monday -- a jarring increase fueled by the delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the five boroughs and nationwide.
Asked about the masks in schools issue, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said recently that the expectation at this point is for the mandate to remain in public schools throughout the city. The CDC still recommends the same, though de Blasio says that may very well change by September. If it does, he'll reevaluate -- the mayor reiterated the same approach on both counts when asked about it Monday.
That stance is in line with the updated guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states that everyone older than age 2 should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, when schools reopen in the fall.
The leading national pediatrician group said it recommends universal masking because so much of the student population isn't yet eligible for vaccination. It's not clear how quickly that will change, or how likely parents will be to get their younger children dosed when the federal government approves shots for kids under 12.
Research consistently shows opening schools in person doesn't generally increase community COVID transmission when masks and other protocol are employed, AAP says, and the emergence of more contagious variants, some of which are linked to more severe outcomes, poses a particular threat to people who aren't vaccinated.
Beyond the classroom, de Blasio said he does not plan to reinstate a citywide mask mandate even as COVID-19 cases increase, opting instead to focus on vaccinating more residents. They mayor, like others, says the latest case increases are by and large among non-immunized people. He also pointed to sustained declines in new hospitalization and death rates as a testament to the power of vaccination to curtail worse outcomes associated with the respiratory disease that first emerged in Wuhan in 2019.
"A mask doesn't arrest the progress of the variant," de Blasio said Monday. "Vaccination does. We're going to go where the real impact is, bottom line."
There have been calls for New York City to follow the lead of Los Angeles County, which announced last week that it will require masks be worn indoors amid a sharp increase in virus cases. And the mayor disagrees with the New York City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine, who has pitched a return to indoor mask mandates.
"I think there's something to be said for mask solidarity — if we are all doing it, it becomes the natural thing. But of you leave it up to an honor system, pretty soon no one is wearing a mask," Levin said Monday. "We need to act now to slow what could be another wave. Before we see hospitalizations and heaven forbid, deaths."
But de Blasio insisted vaccinations are a better strategy for the nation's most populous city, where 4.8 million residents have at least one dose.
“Masks have value, unquestionably, but masks are not going at the root of the problem. Vaccination is,” the mayor said during an livestreamed press briefing. “So we do not intend a mask mandate. We do intend to double down on vaccination.”
To date, nearly 65% of New York City adults are fully vaccinated, while more than 70% have received at least one dose. Statewide, those numbers are 67.3% and 74.%, respectively, though immunization rates decline extensively by age.
According to the latest data, about 31% of kids age 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, compared with 48.9% and 54.2% of the next two older age cohorts, which respectively cover people age 16 to 25 and 26 to 34. Students in Grade 6 and younger aren't even eligible for shots yet and it's yet clear when they will be.
Case trends are similar at the national level, where cases of COVID-19 last week increased by 17,000 nationwide over a 14-day period for the first time since late fall. An increase in hospitalization and death historically follows a spike in illness.
Four of New York's mass vaccination sites closed Monday as the state plans to redistribute resources into more localized operations. The sites at The Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls, Plattsburgh International Airport, SUNY Polytechnic Institute - Utica, and Jones Beach will close.
Cuomo has cited decreasing demand and "milestone" achievements in vaccinations for shuttering the mass vaccination sites.
Gov. Phil Murphy has done the same regarding mass vaccination sites in New Jersey, where new daily case totals are also seeing a significant increase in the last few weeks despite relatively stable hospitalization and death rates.
New Jersey's daily case numbers are up more than 100% in the last 14 days, according to New York Times data. As appears to be the case in New York and elsewhere across the country, the delta variant seems to be fueling the spread.
That strain is the most dominant one in the Garden State. Health department data shows it accounts for 40.7% of samples sequenced in the last four weeks, up from 26.8% a week ago and 7.3% two weeks before that.
New data unveiled by Murphy Monday shows the state's rate of transmission is 1.37, the highest it has been in three months. Nearly all of the new and severe cases are among people who aren't vaccinated and a fraction represent so-called breakthrough cases among already vaccinated people, the governor says.
"These numbers speak for themselves. We only have a pandemic among the unvaccinated. Everyone ages 12 and up who is eligible should go and get vaccinated," Murphy noted Monday.
The New Jersey governor said in late June that masks would not be mandatory in public schools within his state for the upcoming school year barring an unexpected development. He reiterated that point again Monday as well.
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
“We continue to be comfortable where we are,” Murphy said. "We watch this like a hawk. I don’t want to go back, but if we think that’s the right thing to do, we’ll do what the public health experts suggest.”
State health commissioner Judy Persichilli said the rate of positive test results has risen recently for children up to age 13, and most sharply in children 4 and under. She added that overall cases, the rate of hospitalization and the percentage of patients in intensive care has remained low.
Murphy and Persichilli provided an update on the number of fully vaccinated people in the state who have tested positive for COVID-19, referred to as “breakthrough” infections. Through June 28, they found about 3,500 positive cases, 84 requiring hospitalization and 31 deaths among the state’s 4.4 million vaccinated people.
In New York, a state Department of Health spokesperson told NBC New York that they were "aware of 8.718 breakthrough cases of COVID-19, 0.15% of fully vaccinated people. We are continuing to investigate the number of fully vaccinated people who may have been hospitalized or passed away."