COVID vaccine deadline looming for NY health care workers, NYC teachers

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Thursday, September 23, 2021
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NEW YORK (WABC) -- Monday is the deadline for New York state health care workers and New York City school employees to receive their first dost of a COVID-19 vaccine or face termination.

The looming deadline is sparking outrage among many, including unions, as well as creating fears of a teacher shortage if not enough vaccinated substitutes are available.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Kathy Hochul both insisted Thursday that the mandates will be enforced.

"What's looming for Monday is completely avoidable," Hochul said.

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Kemberly Richardson reports on Zucker's resignation and the governor's plan for booster shots.

Right now, 84% of health care workers have received at least one shot, and officials say they are confident that number will go up.

Worker at New York Presbyterian faced a Wednesday deadline, and officials say 99% of the health systems 48,000 employees and affiliated physicians complied. Fewer than 250 did not.

Still, if a shortage happens, temporary workers from places like the Philippines and Ireland may step in.

"Everyone I am talking to, I'm asking, 'Do you have any health care workers?' It is going to be a Department of State approval process we have to work through, so this will not help in the next couple of days."

Another option is adjusting licensing requirements so that out-of-state workers can provide backup.

"The bottom line is, for everybody's sake, just take the shot," Bellevue Hospital worker Tunji Sowunmi said. "You're touching people out there in the open. Protect yourself."

Sowunmi is holding out hope some of his unvaccinated colleagues change their minds.

The mandate for New York City public schools will also take effect after a judge lifted a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit brought by city unions.

RELATED | Teachers survey slams NYC schools' COVID policy

98% of UFT members said they believe neither the mayor nor the Department of Education have a proper safety plan.

Judge Laurence Love sided with the city, finding municipal unions "will be unable to establish a likelihood of ultimate success on the merits."

The UFT estimates about 90% of its teachers have already received a shot, but the mayor says the city has a contingency plan.

"We have thousands and thousands of vaccinated, experienced substitute teachers ready to go," he said. "That's the obvious first go to. But it's also true that central staff has thousands of certified educators who could step in to different roles."

Still, the union representing principals and other school administrators says the city should delay implementation so it can a more in-depth plan for teachers and other staff members who will be absent.

Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said he doubts the city has enough substitutes to fill all of the positions that could be vacant and fears principals will be left in the lurch attempting to keep schools open.

"Despite our repeated warnings, the city is ill prepared for the impact of the vaccination mandate on staffing in schools and early childhood centers with just four days to go before it takes effect," he said. "Our union has been consistently supportive of the city's efforts to encourage vaccinations, and our membership has the highest percentage of vaccination among municipal labor unions. We're hopeful that DOE employees offer proof of vaccination in high numbers in the coming days, but optimism is not a viable strategy. Any staffing shortage, especially during a pandemic, is a threat to the health and safety of both students and personnel. It is dangerous and irresponsible for the city to move forward with its plan to allow schools and centers to operate so severely understaffed. As a result, we are calling on the city to delay the deadline for the mandate to allow the city to develop a reasonable contingency plan."

UFT President Michael Mulgrew echoed that statement.

"The principals' union is right - our schools are not ready for the implementation of the vaccine mandate," he said. "I hope for once City Hall is listening to its own school leaders and finally starts to put together a reasonable plan to face the challenge of keeping our children safe."

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