City employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine as of Sept. 19, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced at a press conference Tuesday. Employees eligible for an exemption will be required to undergo testing every week, she added. “Failure to comply will lead to adverse employment actions,” Bowser said.
Bowser said that the mandate applies to all employees, contractors and grantees of the Government of the District of Columbia, as well as all new hires for vacancies posted on or after Aug 14, 2021. The announcement also affects employees at District Public Schools (DCPS). DC employs about 32,700 people reporting to the Mayor. Bowser said that 59 percent have already reported their status. About 54 percent of employees are already vaccinated, the Mayor said.
Washington Teachers Union (WTU) President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons said that parent union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) reported that up to 90 percent of members were vaccinated.
AFT has provided WTU with a $77,000 grant to encourage vaccination of staff and encourage families to update routine vaccinations.
40 Days to Get Vaccinated
However, unvaccinated employees and teachers haven’t got much time if they intend to be fully vaccinated — meaning that at least 14 days have elapsed since a final dose by Sept. 19 —unless they receive the single-shot Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer requires a minimum of three weeks and Moderna a minimum of four weeks between doses.
That’s a complication for school staff and teachers in particular. Even a person vaccinated August 10, the day of the announcement, would have to wait three weeks, until August 31, to receive a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. That would mean the 14 day waiting period ends Sept. 15.
The first day of school at DCPS is Aug. 31.
At a July DC Council roundtable, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said that about 39 percent of teachers were known to be vaccinated, a number he said was likely lower than the actual rate as reporting had been voluntary.
However, DC Public Charter School employees are not government employees, Bowser clarified. More than 43,000 District students —just under half of the public school population, as of last year — are enrolled at charter schools.
The DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) has not mandated the vaccine. The Hill Rag has reached out to DCPCSB for comment.
Opt For Testing
Employees can opt not to get the vaccine at all, but will be required to be tested weekly if they do not. Self-test kits will be provided at locations with “meaningful numbers” of District works, such as schools, police and fire stations and large municipal building. Where self-testing kits are not available, supervisors are to work with employees to find a way for them to get tested without impacting the delivery of city services.
City Administrator Kevin Donahue said that the city wants to take the opportunity to boost vaccine numbers but allowed that after Sept. 19, the city would have a better sense of data. “If we conclude based on our experience that what we have in place now is not sufficient for keeping our residents safe, then we’ll engage with unions [and] employees about what adjustments to make to our policies,” Donahue said.
Vaccination status will be self-reported by employees. He said that by Sept. 19, there will be an electronic way for employees to upload vaccine cards and negative test results. Employees will receive test results as private citizens, said Donahue, so they will have to work with supervisors to upload results.
Masks are still required for District employees interacting with others inside, or when spending a meaningful amount of time within six feet of the public, Donahue added.
DC Government workers were brought back to the office gradually starting in February 2021, but 40 percent of District employees, including first responders, have been working throughout the pandemic. The majority of DC employees returned to in-person work as of July 11.
Increase in Spread
Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said that DC continued to see an increase in COVID cases, particularly in the 5-14 year old age group, which now represents 1 out of 10 of the cases. The vaccination rate for black students in the 12-14 year old group is lower than for white students.
25-34 year old population is driving the increase, Nesbitt said, with no demographic distinctions. There is a huge gap in vaccine coverage, with black people aged 25-34 having half the vaccination rate of their white peers. While there has been an increase in breakthrough cases over the past month, Nesbitt said that since the vaccine has become available, vaccinated patients make up about 1 percent of hospitalizations for COVID. “We are all better off as a community when we have more people in our community who are vaccinated,” Nesbitt said.
Learn where to get vaccinated or tested and see data on COVID-19 case and vaccination rates at https://coronavirus.dc.gov/