Thursday, May 23, 2024

City Hall, seen in March 2020 not long after closing for coronavirus concerns. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Government and school officials were pushed Monday by city councillors to get all their employees vaccinated against Covid-19, even if it means a mandate. The council unanimously approved an order asking the city manager to report by Sept. 13 “how the city is getting city and public school staff to 100 percent vaccinated.”

“Now that we’re seeing a resurgence due to the Delta variant of Covid-19, employers in the private and public spheres are starting to mandate vaccines,” said councillor Patty Nolan, primary sponsor of the order. “As we get into the next stage of Covid-19, it is critically important that we as the city do all we can.”

The original order didn’t explicitly mention the possibility of requiring vaccinations and it didn’t mention employees in the public school system. An amendment by councillor Marc McGovern added language to cover both gaps, although McGovern agreed with Nolan that school district employees are city staff and Nolan said the “wording of getting to 100 percent vaccination, in the policy order, implicitly includes considering of a mandate.”

Still, as McGovern said, “I have been around long enough to know sometimes if we are not explicit, people interpret things differently.” Other councillors, including Nolan, agreed and the council adopted the amendment and the final order 9-0.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, who also heads the School Committee, said she would support the order at Tuesday’s meeting of the committee. Siddiqui also hinted that school officials already are discussing the staff vaccination issue, saying that “these conversations have been happening.”

City officials have said they don’t require employees to get the vaccine and also don’t ask workers whether they’ve been vaccinated. Spokesman Lee Gianetti has been asked how many city employees have been infected or forced to quarantine; he has ignored the question.

In contrast, Cambridge Housing Authority executive director Mike Johnston said Wednesday that the authority is “strongly considering” imposing a vaccination mandate for staff. Johnston also reported that two workers, who were not vaccinated, were at home after testing positive and their contacts among the staff had been sent for testing. Johnston has updated information regularly about infections among staff and residents.

Hospitals and universities

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association said last week that its members – most of the hospitals in the state – had agreed to adopt staff vaccination mandates, but could choose their own timeframe and method. That gave Cambridge’s two hospitals leeway to delay and even, in the case of Cambridge Health Alliance, to say CHA was “evaluating” a mandate. Mount Auburn Hospital is part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, which has said it will require staff vaccinations if and when the Food and Drug Administration gives full approval to the vaccines instead of their current emergency use authorization.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Instititute of Technology are mandating vaccination for all faculty and staff who are or will be on campus, spokespersons said Tuesday. MIT said the policy applies to all except those who get an exemption.

Both universities have said students will have to show evidence of vaccination when they return to campus this fall. Figures from the past academic year, when on-campus students, staff and associates were repeatedly tested, generally showed that students had the lowest rate of positive tests.