Amid Delta Fears, NYC Mandates Vaccine or Weekly Tests for City Health, Hospital Staff

"The folks who work in our public hospitals and clinics, they need to be safe, the people they serve need to be safe. So, we're saying, get vaccinated, or get tested once every week. It's a fair choice," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday

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What to Know

  • All workers at NYC-run health care facilities and hospitals will be required to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests beginning in August
  • City Health + Hospitals officials said just 58 percent of the staff at their facilities are vaccinated, and said the new measure will protect non-immunized patients and staff from the contagious delta variant
  • Despite COVID rates climbing back up, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says he's not reinstating an indoor mask mandate; hospitalizations and deaths remain low and he says vaccination is the answer

New York City will mandate COVID vaccinations or weekly tests for all workers at city-run healthcare facilities and hospitals as the highly contagious delta variant fuels alarming increases in daily cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed Wednesday.

City Health + Hospitals officials say just 58 percent of the staff at their facilities are vaccinated and the new requirement will protect non-immunized patients and staff from the ongoing delta surge, which is sparking concerns anew across the U.S.

In New York City, the rolling case average is up nearly 66% this last week compared with the average the previous four weeks -- and rising daily.

De Blasio said Wednesday it's time for a new approach.

"We're watching the Delta variant and the impact it's having, and it's time for a change," he said. "We're going to do more and more if we keep seeing the delta variant pose such a danger to us."

The mayor said he believes the unions will be on board.

"I think there's a level of recognition that we have a new and growing problem and we've got to do something to address it quickly, aggressively -- and this is an initial approach that balances different concerns effectively," the mayor said.

Union President George Gresham seemed a bit less enthused, though commended de Blasio for not making vaccination in and of itself a condition of employment.

"The health and safety of our members and their patients remains our top priority, which is why we encourage our members to get vaccinated," Gresham said. "However, there are other cooperative avenues that can be taken to address the concerns of both labor and management. Threatening our members’ freedom of choice and livelihood is not one of them."

De Blasio says he's not threatening anyone, merely trying to protect all New Yorkers from a "dangerous" period of the pandemic, as his top health officials describe it, that threatens to undercut the significant progress the former epicenter has made.

He also hopes the new requirement will encourage healthcare staff who haven't yet gotten vaccinated for whatever reason to take that final step in order to help keep them and everyone they serve safe. De Blasio believes it to be a "fair choice."

The mandate will take effect in August. At that time, all staff at the city's 11 public hospitals — such as Harlem Hospital, Bellevue Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital — must either provide one-time proof of vaccination or submit to mandatory weekly testing to ensure they are negative before reporting to work. The policy will also apply to workers who see patients at health department clinics.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday he does not plan to reinstate a citywide mask mandate even as COVID-19 cases increase. NBC New York's Adam Harding reports.

De Blasio said he'd like to see private hospitals implement similar policies as well.

De Blasio 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, which has been ravaging under-vaccinated neighborhoods and sending case averages to months-long highs.

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.

The governor's report Wednesday was closer to 1,500 new daily cases than 1,000.

Hospitalization and death rates remain low, a testament, officials say, to the power of vaccination to thwart more severe outcomes even if daily case counts rise.

De Blasio says vaccinations, not renewed mask mandates, are the answer to delta.

"A mask doesn't arrest the progress of the variant," the mayor said this week. "Vaccination does. We're going to go where the real impact is, bottom line."

To date, 65.1% of New York City adults are fully vaccinated, while 71% have received at least one dose. Statewide, those numbers are 67.5% and 74%, respectively, though immunization rates decline extensively by age.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

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."

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