City, Coronavirus

Boston implements vaccination mandate for city employees amidst COVID surge, Delta variant

Man receiving a COVID-19 test swab
Mayor Kim Janey announced last Thursday that all city employees, volunteers and onsite contractors will have to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing starting September in light of Boston’s surge in coronavirus cases. COURTESY OF RAIMOND SPEKKING VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Mayor Kim Janey announced last Thursday a mandate requiring all City employees, volunteers and onsite contractors to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing upon rising COVID-19 case numbers in Boston. 

“Our purpose is to protect our employees and the public, and our work is rooted in public health guidance and based on data and science,” Janey said in a press release. “I am grateful for the continued collaboration with our municipal unions to ensure the safety of our entire workforce and the residents we serve.” 

The mandate will go into effect in phases over two months, starting with requiring employees who serve “high priority residents,” such as those who work in Boston Public Schools, Commission on Disabilities and Boston Public Libraries, to adhere to the policy by September 20. 

“I think these are all great steps to move towards, targeted groups that can be fully vaccinated, especially as we go into the school year,” Jarone Lee, the medical director of the Blake 12 Intensive Care Unit at Mass General Hospital, said in an interview. 

Public-facing employees, onsite contractors and volunteers servicing Boston Public Schools, Boston Public Libraries, Boston Centers for Youth & Families, the Commission of Disabilities and Age Strong have until Oct. 4 to comply with the mandate, while all others have until Oct. 18.

President of the Boston Teachers Union, Jessica Tang, praised the vaccination mandate and stated her support of the city’s public health approach in the release.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States right now. 

Lee said the Delta variant is comparatively “more aggressive” than the Alpha strain of COVID-19 because of the virus’ rapid transmissibility rate. 

Research shows that the viral load of the Delta variant is higher earlier on before people may realize they are sick: the CDC said the Delta variant is more than twice as contagious as other variants. 

“The fact that it is able to infect more people means that it really rips through the population at a much, much higher rate,” said Whitney Perry, an attending physician at Tufts Medical Center focused on infectious diseases.

Immunocompromised individuals, who are at a higher risk for longer transmission and infection, are now recommended by the CDC to get a third shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The Biden administration also announced that most Americans should receive a booster shot eight months after their second dose.

Boston is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to numbers from the COVID-19 Response Reporting Database. Both Perry and Lee also pointed to an uptick in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in recent weeks. 

“We definitely are seeing high levels of spread, and while we hoped never to see this again, even the hospitalizations in the last week or two are also trending up,” Perry said. 

Perry added that the potential for future mutations to emerge increases the more a virus is able to replicate in a community. Given this, she said vaccination is extremely important to help lower the chances of variants like the Delta variant from arising. 

“I still think we are in a much better position than many other places in the country and that is because of our vaccination rate,” she said. “But again, the trend is not good.”

Lee also said he is nevertheless “hopeful” about managing the rising Delta COVID-19 cases because of the comparatively higher vaccination rates in Boston.

“The danger is not to us directly who are fully vaccinated, as to all of everyone else that we interact with,” he said, “Like our kids who aren’t vaccinated or even friends and family and who are fully immunosuppressed or have a suppressed immune system for many other reasons.” 

Perry said many of the people in the unvaccinated population are a younger demographic, particularly in their 20s and 30s. 

“A lot of misinformation is out there being spread on social media, and that particular age groups are high consumers,” she said. 

Lee said that with a large number of students expected to come back to Boston in the Fall, it’s up to not only the universities, but also the state and city to ensure the students and surrounding communities are safe. 

“It’s also up to our State of Massachusetts as well our city to figure out what the best solution is for all students coming back,” Lee said, including considering mandating vaccines or other protocols to ensure students are safe.

Although Perry said college students were not a high source of spread last winter, she said this year’s numbers would depend on measures colleges have in place, such as vaccination and testing. 

Boston Public Health Commission’s media relations director Caitlin McLaughlin wrote in an email to the Daily Free Press that though vaccinations are the strongest way to protect against the virus, mask-wearing is also “strongly encouraged” once again in the city. She added that unvaccinated individuals should avoid sizable social gatherings and wear a mask covering their nose and mouth, avoid congested areas and maintain six feet of physical distance when at large gatherings.

“People who are not vaccinated yet, should get vaccinated as soon as possible,” McLaughlin wrote. “The COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection we have against this virus and is effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalizations.”

While many of these safety measures can be effective at preventing the virus, Perry said there is no guarantee that any one strategy will prevent individuals from contracting the virus. However, she said the vaccination gives individuals a “much-reduced chance” of contracting a life-threatening case. 

Though McLaughlin wrote vaccinations are the greatest protection, she also praised the City of Boston’s mask mandate inside municipal buildings and Boston Public Schools decision to require all BPS students and staff to wear masks indoors this Fall as other safety measures and encouraged everyone to adopt all the safety measures they can.

“We expect to be living with COVID-19 for some time and we would encourage all Boston residents to continue to do all we can to keep ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods safe,” McLoughlin wrote. 

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