New York Declares State of Emergency as Vaccine Mandate Chaos Looms

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Angela Weiss/Getty
Angela Weiss/Getty

As tens of thousands of unvaccinated New York health-care workers are set to be fired on Monday once the state’s COVID-19 vaccination deadline kicks in, Gov. Kathy Hochul has a plan for a potential staffing shortage: a statewide state of emergency.

Hochul said preparations were underway Saturday to make an emergency declaration, clearing the way for health-care workers not licensed in New York to fill in the gaps of those terminated. The declaration will also allow workers from other countries, recent graduates, and retirees to practice in New York. In addition, the state may deploy “medically trained” National Guard troops, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“We are still in a battle against COVID to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal,” Hochul said in a statement. “I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care.”

The move comes as New York sees a number of vaccine mandates set to take effect across the state, including among New York City teachers. The latter hit a snag late Friday after a federal judge temporarily blocked the mandate from taking effect, the Associated Press reported.

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State data shows that 84 percent of the state’s 450,000 hospital workers are vaccinated, along with 83 percent of its 145,400 nursing home workers. Even still, that means as many as 94,000 workers are unvaccinated, leaving a potentially dire shortfall in workers from Monday. Many who refused to get the shot have argued it violates their personal freedoms.

“We give patients a Bill of Rights, and they are able to choose what procedures or tests or medications they want to put in their system,” Gregory Serafin, a registered nurse at the Erie County Medical Center, told The New York Times. “Health care workers deserve the same medical autonomy to make those decisions.”

Some health-care facilities believe they can withstand the loss of those employees once the Sept. 27 deadline kicks in—the earliest of those deadlines, with California’s set to start Sept. 30 and Maine’s enforcement beginning Oct. 29.

Others, such as Erie County Medical Center President Tom Quatroche, said the looming staffing loss is an “unprecedented crisis.” The facility has been forced to pause ICU transfers from other hospitals and suspend elective in-patient surgeries because it expects to fire as many as 400 employees on Monday.

“I think we need more time to comply, and I’ve asked for that,” Quatroche told the Times. “For all the right reasons, the vaccine mandate was put in place. But the reality is it is creating a public health crisis in hospitals, with nobody to care for patients.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>A small group gathered outside of New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 1 to protest the mandate for hospital staff to be vaccinated.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Spencer Platt/Getty</div>

A small group gathered outside of New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 1 to protest the mandate for hospital staff to be vaccinated.

Spencer Platt/Getty

The vaccination deadline for healthcare workers coincides with one for educators in New York City, which was set to require all school employees to have received at least one shot by Monday. A federal judge temporarily blocked the move, sending it to a three-judge Appeals Court panel to decide on an expedited basis.

“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Department of Education spokeswoman Danielle Filson told the AP.

Should it survive the legal challenge, those who do not receive a shot will be barred from entering school buildings and placed on unpaid leave for a year, though they will keep their health insurance.

Healthcare workers who are terminated on Monday won’t be eligible for unemployment insurance if they don’t have a medical exemption or doctor’s note, according to state Department of Labor guidance.

Both healthcare workers and teachers’ unions are engulfed in lawsuits challenging the vaccine mandates, with some believing the mandate infringes on their religious freedoms. A federal judge has blocked the mandate from affecting those seeking religious exemptions until at least Oct. 12. But for all others, the mandate is set to take effect Monday.

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