It’s hard not to feel like the worst of COVID is behind us, as even Anthony Fauci, MD, one of the nation’s top COVID advisers, is now saying the U.S. is out of the “pandemic phase.” But despite the U.S. seeing a consistent and significant decline in virus infections throughout February and March, cases are climbing back up again thanks to the BA.2 variant—an even faster-spreading subvariant of Omicron. According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), new infections have increased by more than 35 percent in just the last week alone.
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As a result of earlier coronavirus spread, several major U.S. cities—including New York, San Francisco, and Chicago—implemented vaccine mandates for workers in 2021. But declining COVID numbers have meant no new mandates being enacted, and some getting pulled back. New York City Mayor Eric Adams even partly lifted the city’s employee vaccine mandate for professional athletes and performers in March.
Despite all that, one major city is now getting ready to implement a new COVID vaccine requirement for certain workers. On April 26, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced that its long-delayed mandate for unionized city workers would finally take effect next month, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. According to a statement from the City of a Philadelphia, employees covered by the requirement will need to have proof of at least their first dose of a COVID vaccine by May 31.
Workers who have not submitted an exemption request by this date will be placed on unvaccinated leave starting June 6. This leave will either utilize accumulated paid vacation and holiday time or be unpaid for a maximum of 30 calendar days, after which workers could be up for termination if they remain unvaccinated. It wouldn’t be a first for the administration, as The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 13 non-unionized city employees were fired for failing to comply with a Dec. 2021 vaccine mandate.
“As public servants, we bear a responsibility to mitigate the harm that would result from inadvertent transmission of COVID-19 to our colleagues and the public and to set an example for other organizations and companies,” Kenney said in an April 26 statement.
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Kenney had first announced plans to require proof of COVID vaccination for city workers in Nov. 2021. The requirement was put in place for the administration’s 2,000 non-unionized employees in December, and the requirement for unionized city workers was originally supposed to take effect in January of this year. But this part of the vaccine mandate has been delayed, as the city has struggled to reach agreements with four major municipal unions in the city, which represent around 24,000 unionized city employees.
The requirement had already been approved by unions overseeing health care and sanitation workers, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. And on April 26, the city reached an agreement with its police union, setting the new deadline of May 31. There is still a chance this mandate could get delayed again, as there is a provision that allows all the unions to push back deadlines if another union secures a later date—and the city’s fire union is still fighting the requirement.
A panel for the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22 is set to meet with the city on May 4 to discuss the vaccine mandate. But Joy Huertas, the spokesperson for Mayor Kenney, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the administration intends to implement the May deadline for all unionized city workers no matter what happens with the fire union. “The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines remain the best way to protect Philadelphians and save lives in the ongoing struggle to fight this pandemic,” Kenney said in his April 26 statement.
RELATED: Unvaccinated People Will Be Banned From Here, as of May 16.