Nearly three-quarters of Boston city workers, including those who work in public schools, have received proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or are undergoing weekly tests as the city begins enforcement of a broad mandate to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
However, the new city data did not specify vaccination status by the employee's position, making it impossible to determine whether individuals who directly interact with the public, such as teachers, librarians, or aides who work with elderly and disabled, have the greatest protection.
The mandate, which Acting Mayor Kim Janey revealed for the city's 18,000 employees on Aug. 12, is being implemented in three phases, starting last week with public schools and several other agencies.
Employees who do not comply may be put on unpaid leave, a move that the city has yet to take. The city's human resources team and an outside contractor are still examining hundreds of documents submitted.
Employees are not required to be vaccinated under the mandate, but individuals who aren't required for a negative test result every week once their respective agency has reached the deadline to comply. Employees who perform poorly must inform the city and follow quarantine procedures.
We are working closely with our diverse workforce, as well as our union partners, to ensure employees have access to vaccination, testing, and verification systems in order to complete compliance with the mandate, a city spokesperson said.
Contrary to similar mandates elsewhere, which have resulted in protests and even lawsuits from public service employees, The Boston edict has sparked little public controversy unlike other Boston mandate states, in which they have prompted public servants to take action.
The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to delay Governor Charlie Baker's requirement that all state employees be vaccinated by Oct. 17th. The Massachusetts state police union had sued the Baker administration over the decision, but it didn't prevail.
A group of public school educators has also sued for the city's mandate in New York City, but thus unsuccessful.
Matt OMalley, president pro tem of the Boston City Council, stated that the mandate is unlikely to make a huge backlash here because it provides flexibility, giving employees who oppose vaccination the option to conduct weekly testing instead. The majority of city employees, on the other hand, appear to be supportive of vaccination, he added, with 97 percent of the City Council staff being vaccinated.
O'Malley stated, "Part of a public servant's job is to do everything you can to keep the community safe," adding that "part of the job of an official servant is doing everything possible to maintain the environment safe." When public employees attempt to sue, I misunderstood their commitment to public service. I'm pleased there hasn't been such a debate in Boston, I said.
It's unclear whether Boston will fire workers who refuse to comply with the law. Any discipline will be based on progressive discipline and collective bargaining agreements, a city's spokesperson stated.
Bringing the first set of departments into compliance is proving to be a huge endeavor. The Boston Public Schools is the city's largest department, employing 11,000 people. Other city agencies in the first wave include the Commission on Disabilities, the Age Strong office, and public libraries.
By September 20, workers in the first phase were expected to submit proof of vaccination. By Monday, those who didn't need a negative COVID-19 test result, they needed fewer tests.
By Monday, the second wave of workers must provide vaccination documents. That organization includes numerous private contractors, including school bus drivers, as well as police officers, firefighters, the city clerk's office, and other departments that deal with the public. The last wave of workers must wait until Oct. 18 to comply.
Since Boston began its online portal on August 30, 13,000 employees have submitted documentation or a negative test result so far. The city said it was unable to provide a breakdown of compliance rates by department.
For many Boston families and educators, getting all school employees inoculated is considered particularly crucial in preventing COVID-19 infections from spreading to unvaccinated children.
Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the shots, a proportion of the school system's student population, while older children remain unvaccinated. That landscape puts them at a higher risk for the highly contagious Delta variant, which has been causing infection rates to rise among children and adolescents across the nation in recent months.
Boston isn't longer practicing social distancing in many cases, as in other school districts, in order to accommodate a full return to classrooms. However, the school system is taking other measures to protect students and staff, such as upgrading ventilation and equipping classrooms with air purifiers and fans.
Stephanie Shapiro-Berkson, a public health consultant whose two children attend Boston Latin School, said she wished the city could do tad unavoidable vaccination duty. It's frustrating that we have this tool, and people are refusing to be vaccinated, she said.
However, Shapiro-Berkson stated that such a procedure would have to be handled with sensitivity and flexibility, stating that vaccination resistance in marginalized communities is often based on decades of discrimination and unethical medical research practices.
Some bumps in the Boston vaccination effort. According to the Boston Teachers Union, some teachers have had difficulties uploading vaccination documents or obtaining confirmation they were received or verified.
Some members on medical or other types of leave have been irritated by the city's response to compliance reminders. The teachersunion claims that workers should not be subject to the mandate until they return to work.
As a result, the union wants the city to suspend sanctions until it reveals the accuracy of information for each individual.
I believe the city is doing the right thing [with the mandate], and it was an ambitious timetable for complying, especially at the start of a school year, when there are so many other demands placed on educators to get school started, union president Jessica Tang said. I know our teachers have been diligently assisting the students in achieving the goals, and we are hopeful that the city will be able to continue to improve and streamline the process.
Xavier Andrews, a school spokesman, said the department has sent dozens of warnings to its 11,000 workers about the deadline.
The school system has also deployed staff to job sites to collect verification documents or assist employees in uploading them to the computer system, as well as holding vaccination clinics, including dozens at back-to-school events.
James Vaznis can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.