To combat a resurgent novel coronavirus, Boston City Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley is requiring all in-person council staff to show proof of vaccination or a weekly COVID-19 test starting Aug. 30, and political pressure continues to mount on Acting Mayor Kim Janey to issue a similar mandate for the city government’s entire 18,000-strong workforce.
“The requirement comes in light of rising COVID-19 cases,” said O’Malley in a Tuesday memo. “The Delta variant is causing cases to rise nationally for mostly unvaccinated and some vaccinated people as it is more transmissible.”
In the memo, O’Malley said he hoped such guidelines would encourage other Boston employers to implement a similar policy. He also noted that New York City, California, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs recently implemented similar policies.
As of July 20, Boston is averaging 46.6 new positive COVID-19 cases each day, while the city’s positive test rate has increased to 2.2 percent. More than 60 percent of Boston’s total population has been fully vaccinated, according to O’Malley’s memo. The memo will apply to more than 100 people, including councilors, their staff, and interns, according to O’Malley.
O’Malley became council president pro tempore when Janey was elevated from council president to acting mayor in March.
As of Tuesday, there was no vaccine or testing requirement for the wider city workforce, as Janey did not issue a mandate.
Emma Pettit, a Janey spokeswoman, said in a statement: “The City of Boston requires masks to be worn by all employees and visitors inside municipal buildings, however there is no current mandate for COVID-19 vaccination.”
City officials, she said, “will continue to use data to drive our decision making and will adjust employee and public health guidance as necessary.”
Meanwhile, mayoral candidate John Barros is calling for the city to require all of its employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or be tested for the virus at least once a week. Barros, former economic development chief for the city, and Janey are among five major mayoral candidates in this year’s race.
“City employees have been doing incredibly heroic work throughout the pandemic, and we have a responsibility to make sure they’re protected from COVID exposure in the workplace,” said Barros in a statement. “We also have a responsibility to protect members of the public who interact with city employees.”
Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is also running for mayor, issued a similar call for a city workforce vaccination requirement, saying in a statement, “As COVID-19 continues to spread with a deadlier variant, the City of Boston must show leadership in ensuring we slow the spread of the virus by requiring all City employees to either be fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.”
The question of a Boston vaccine mandate came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.
Citing new information about the ability of the Delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Just last week, Janey said Boston Public Schools students will be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms in the fall.
On Monday, California and New York City both announced that they would require hundreds of thousands of government workers to get inoculations or face weekly testing. In New York City, several major unions representing city workers warned that the rules had to be collectively bargained, but in California, the new rules were generally welcomed by health care organizations and the public employee unions.
Pettit, Janey’s spokeswoman, said any vaccine mandate would have to be collectively bargained with municipal employee unions. Several Boston municipal labor groups did not return messages.
Michael Ulrich, who teaches health law at Boston University, said Janey has the legal authority to issue vaccine and testing requirements of city workers, and that courts have largely upheld vaccine requirements mandated by employers and government agencies.
“I think she would be well within her authority to make that mandate,” he said.
In June, the state’s largest hospital systems said they were requiring all of their employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of a moral imperative to keep patients safe.
Leaders of Mass General Brigham, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Wellforce, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said requiring vaccination for employees is critical for protecting vulnerable patients, especially those who are immunocompromised.
Together, these hospital systems employ more than 135,000 people.
Material from The New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.