Today's Mayoral press briefing was again, almost entirely about the threat the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant, which is now the dominant variant across NYC, is posing to those who are yet to be vaccinated.
As of today, new reported cases on a seven-day average is at 597 or 1.86% positivity, up significantly from 0.4% a couple of weeks ago. Southern and Eastern Brooklyn in experiencing numbers that are in the high 2-3% range, albeit not enough people are getting tested in these communities, according to the city.
At this time, according to health officials, infections are mostly among the unvaccinated, and they are rising fast across the city. Tremendous effort has been deployed by the city to reach out and educate residents about the vaccine, in many languages at all levels and settings, down to knocking on doors. However, many remain hesitant.
"The number one issue comes down to fear," acknowledged Dr. Mitchell Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals CEO. "They've gotten misinformation and they're frightened of getting the vaccine. And part of my job is to explain why it is that the risks of getting COVID are so much greater than the vaccines, which have shown themselves to be very safe. And that I feel that as more and more people are vaccinated and people can look around and say, yes, yes, all of my friends have been vaccinated, everybody is fine, but the people who haven't been vaccinated, they're getting sick, that, that work will overcome that fear and misinformation."
It is not helping that 40% of healthcare workers in public hospitals are yet to be vaccinated, so the city will be mandating either a vaccine or weekly COVID-19 testing from those who refuse to take the vaccine starting August 2.
"Beginning August 2nd, proof of vaccination or a negative test will be requested from all of our clinic-based staff," announced Health Commissioner Dave Choksi. "That means nurses, doctors, social workers, custodians, and registrars." The Health Department is planning to extend the COVID safety requirement to additional Health Department staff beyond the clinics in the weeks ahead, he added.
"We will work collaboratively with our labor partners to make it easy for our staff to be vaccinated or easy to be tested weekly. Testing will be at our facilities so that patient – so that our workers can be tested on their work shift," said Dr. Katz.
Any employee at Health + Hospitals or the clinical Department of Health who does not comply will be placed on unpaid leave, Mayor Bill de Blasio informed.
Why not push harder to require all the municipal workers, including police officers and teachers to get vaccinated?
Mayor says: "We are definitely looking at other possibilities, but we're not there yet." So for now the taxpayer will foot the bill for weekly testing for healthcare workers that refuse vaccination.
Does the Mayor intend to mandate vaccination for Health + Hospitals staff once the vaccines do receive their final FDA approval, which could come as soon as September for at least one of the currently available vaccines?
Mayor: "We're going to look at a range of options going forward. If we don't see vaccination numbers continue to go up, we're going to push in every way. If we don't see them go up fast enough. And if we don't see progress against the variant, we're going to consider a range of options. So, I think it's premature to say what we would do in terms of the FDA approval or when it will come. What is very clear is we will do more and more and more if we see the Delta variant continue to present such a danger to us."