What to Know
- As the deadline for city employees to get vaccinated approaches, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there has been an uptick in those getting vaccinated, however, he addressed the real possibility of a shortage in first responders.
- New York City announced last week it was expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to all public employees with no test-out option.
- A shortage is a real possibility, especially considering that after promising legal action in response to the city's newest vaccine mandate, the NYPD's largest union followed through on Monday by suing New York City in Staten Island state Supreme Court.
As the deadline for city employees to get vaccinated approaches, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the possibility of a shortage in first responders.
New York City announced last week it was expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to all public employees with no test-out option.
Deadlines are different for the NYPD and FDNY versus corrections officers, but the message is the same, according to the mayor's office: Those who serve the community must take responsibility to protect the people within it and themselves.
According to the mayor, since the mandate was announced, there has been an uptick in city employees getting vaccinated.
"We're seeing movement, obviously because the numbers we have is only through yesterday, what I expect is a surge of activity particularly on Friday, and then what we saw before - we had this pattern with the healthcare workers and those in our schools - a surge in vaccination right up on the deadline," he said during his daily press conference Wednesday, adding: "And then some people who realize they're about to get put on leave and then they go out and get vaccinated immediately and others who get vaccinated in the days after."
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea recorded a video reminding the holdouts that "we will be sending again notifications to people that our records say don't have the vaccination and then we are planning for contingencies at the same time."
A shortage is a real possibility, especially considering that after promising legal action in response to the city's newest vaccine mandate, the NYPD's largest union followed through on Monday by suing New York City in Staten Island state Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the mayor acknowledged just that and touched upon what it will mean for the city if there indeed is a shortage after the vaccine mandate is enacted Friday.
City Hall insists that there is enough vaccinated manpower — like the 400 new officers sworn in on Wednesday, all of whom are vaccinated — to help patrol the streets. The mayor said that although they do not have substitutes on hand (a pool of workers available when there were talks of teacher shortages) this time around, a different plan would most likely take place to address the shortage of first responders — if there ends up being one.
"It is about overtime, it is about shifting assignments to a particular need. Our agencies went through so much last year where they had huge numbers of members out because of COVID and adjusted and they did it very well," he said.
"These are organizations used to crisis and disaster and they know how to keep things going," the mayor went on to say.
When questioned about the projected overtime costs these schedule changes would mean to the city, de Blasio said: "I want to note, we're not looking at this from the budgetary perspective, we're looking at this from how to keep people safe, how we end the COVID era, how we turn the corner in the biggest crisis in our history. That's our focus. Obviously, I'd like everyone to get vaccinated by the end of Friday. If they don't they're going off payroll. I don't want those savings, but it does create a savings and if we have to give out more overtime to balance there will obviously resources to account for that."
During her own press conference, Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is ready to assist the city if they find themselves with a shortage of first responders.
"I will always reach out my hand and friendship and support to the City of New York. This is a new era of collaboration and if they need our assistance to provide basic services for the constituents that we mutually represent, I'll be there to assist," she said.
De Blasio has said those who serve the city also have a responsibility to protect the people and communities within it from all scourges, COVID-19 included.
"The vaccine is what has allowed us to fight back against COVID and save tens of thousands of lives. And there's still a lot of city employees who are not vaccinated," de Blasio told CNN last week. "I want to protect them. I want to protect their families. I want to protect all the people that they come in contact within this city."
"Law enforcement has borne the brunt of COVID. In this nation in the last two years, 460 law enforcement officers have been lost to COVID. We've got to protect them," the Democrat added. "This vaccine mandate allows us to do that."
Starting last week, city employees started to receive $500 in their paychecks if they get their first shot at a city-run vaccination site, according to the mayor's office.
The new rules affect more than 160,000 workers (including police, firefighters and correctional officers) who are not fully vaccinated. The president of the FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association said that he told members "if they choose not to get vaccinated, they must still report to duty." Nearly 45% of FDNY firefighters are unvaccinated, union president Andrew Ansbro said last week, and said they want testing to continue. It is unclear what the updated percentage of those unvaccinated in the FDNY is as of Wednesday.
"The Department must manage the unfortunate fact that a portion of our workforce has refused to comply with a vaccine mandate for all city employees. We will use all means at our disposal, including mandatory overtime, mutual aid from other EMS providers, and significant changes to the schedules of our members," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. "We will ensure the continuity of operations and safety of all those we have sworn oaths to serve."
The firefighters union indicated that their ask for an extension of the mandate deadline was rejected by City Hall. Ansbro offered an alarming prediction for after the vaccine mandate taking effect: emergency response would slow down.
"You are going to see dozens of firehouses closed, response times climb and lives are going to be lost," the union president said. "It's inevitable and irrefutable."
An FDNY official said that come Nov. 1, there is the potential for as many as 20 percent of fire companies to close, and 20 percent fewer ambulances on the road. Changes to make up for the loss in manpower will come from mandatory overtime, canceled vacations, some members having positions switched and EMS calling on voluntary units and volunteers.
Fears of a municipal slowdown have already hit city streets, as trash collection has begun to lag in Brooklyn and Staten Island. The mayor said that if the sanitation union authorized that, it is a major problem.
"This has to be addressed. This is something we are not going to let continue," he said.
De Blasio said the city would begin impact bargaining with affected unions immediately. Henry Garrido, executive director of District 37, the city's largest municipal employees union, acknowledged the collective bargaining requirement and said in a statement, "We expect City Hall to slow down and sit down with us."
"We encourage all our members to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families," Garrido added.
Under an executive order signed by the mayor last month, NYPD officers must either be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test each week but the new order expected to become official later Wednesday means about 20,000 unvaccinated officers must get at least one dose by 5 p.m. on Oct. 29 or be placed on unpaid leave, officials said.
"We don't want that for anyone," de Blasio pleaded at his Wednesday briefing. "We just want people to get vaccinated."
The NYPD has about 34,500 uniformed personnel and about 17,700 people in non-uniformed support positions. In an interview with PIX Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said that 73% of officers are vaccinated, with 800 doing so the day before. Shea went on to say that those following the mandate changes "minute by minute at this point."
The mandate goes into effect on December 1 for uniformed members of the Department of Corrections.
The two commissioners who oversee the largest police and fire departments in the U.S. have already said earlier this month that they support the mandate for the members of their respective departments. Shea had even made impassioned pleas to officers in a video message, urging them to get inoculated.
More than 60 NYPD employees have died of COVID-19. The fire department, whose EMTs and paramedics were working around the clock in the early days of the pandemic, lost 16 workers to the virus, as of last week.
A similar mandate for city Department of Education and New York City Health and Hospitals staff took effect in late September amid controversy well. As of the latest data, vaccination rates for those two groups are at 96% and 95%, respectively as of last week, de Blasio said Oct. 20.
The mayor says it's all a testament to the effectiveness of vaccine mandates to broaden protection for the city's entire population, including the most vulnerable.
Both groups have tried to challenge the mandate in courts -- with teachers taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it -- but for the most part, the argument of public health as justifying the rule has prevailed. Some legal challenges are ongoing but officials expect those won't succeed, either.
Overall, de Blasio said last week about 46,000 of all city employees remain unvaccinated.
"That's a lot of people, and think about their families, think about everyone they come in contact with," the mayor said.
New York City's Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, said that while the city in the past has "often lacked clarity, consistency or courage" in implementing such policies, last week's announcement came as a "welcome, crucial step."
The five boroughs were the first to enact one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates, a sweeping measure that requires shots for everyone entering a bar, restaurant, nail salon, gym or sports games, to boost the overall percentage of the population protected from COVID-19.
De Blasio continues to encourage those who have not gotten vaccinated to do so. At the rate the city is going, he says, there are only about one million adult New Yorkers left who are unvaccinated.
"At this point, there is only about one million adults left to be vaccinated and they keep coming in. The incentives the mandates, everything’s working," de Blasio said last week.