NJ health care workers required to get COVID vaccines by Sept. 7 — or test weekly - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

NJ health care workers required to get COVID vaccines by Sept. 7 — or test weekly

Taken from NorthJersey.com

By Lindy Washburn

August 2, 2021

Every health care worker in New Jersey’s private and public health care facilities, along with those who work at state prisons and county jails, will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 7, or get tested once or twice every week for coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The mandate applies not only to employees of state owned facilities, such as the state veterans’ homes, psychiatric hospitals, and developmental centers, but to privately owned hospitals, nursing homes and behavioral health care facilities.

“This mandate is the floor,” Murphy said. “If we do not see significant increases in vaccination rates among employees in these settings, we are ready and willing to require all staff to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment.”

The deadline will be enforced with “no exceptions and no extensions,” he said
Murphy’s goal is vaccination of 80% to 85% of New Jersey’s population, due to the extremely high rate of transmission of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

“The delta variant is more contagious and more lethal than previously thought,” he said.

With the delta variant now dominant in the state, new COVID cases and hospitalizations have climbed rapidly. Every county except Warren is now in the red or orange zone, with high or substantial transmission of the virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. And outbreaks in long-term care settings have increased.

Of particular concern is the increase in children hospitalized with COVID-19, said state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

Nineteen children —13 with positive test results and six awaiting test results — are currently among the 540 people hospitalized statewide. That is the highest number of hospitalized patients since early May. The vast majority are unvaccinated, Murphy said.

COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities more than doubled in two weeks, from 18 to 38, with 98 residents infected, Persichilli said. And while an average of 71% of nursing home employees are vaccinated, in some facilities the rates are as low as 33%.

“None of us would want our loved ones put in danger by a health care provider,” Persichilli said, nor do those who care for sick patients want to jeopardize their patients’ health.

The governor’s announcement applies to privately owned acute-care hospitals, specialty hospitals, long-term care and assisted-living facilities, licensed behavioral health facilities, home health agencies, short-term and post-acute in-patient rehabilitation centers, and county correctional facilities.

The state facilities whose employees must be vaccinated or submit to a minimum of one or two COVID tests weekly are the state’s four psychiatric hospitals — Ancora, Ann Klein, Greystone and Trenton; the three state-operated veterans’ homes in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland; juvenile justice commission facilities, and state correctional facilities.

University Hospital, the state-owned medical center in Newark, already has a vaccine requirement for employees with no opt-out provision for testing.

“Discussions with the unions have been very constructive,” Murphy said. The inclusion of a testing regimen for those who opt out of testing is expected to mitigate opposition from organized labor, he said.

But AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said that even a mandate with a weekly testing regimen must be negotiated. Among its 20,000 members in the state are employees of the state’s veterans homes and psychiatric hospitals.

“The Governor’s office agreed this morning to bargain over the impact of mandating the vaccine or weekly testing for the state workers that we represent,” the union said in a statement. “We look forward to working together to find a resolution that makes sense for the state as well as AFSCME members.”

The state’s largest health care workers’ union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, said it “supports the Governor’s decision to create a pathway to increase vaccination rates while enforcing routine testing of those who are not able to be vaccinated.”

The 14,000-member union “will continue to discuss the effects of the rollout with employers,” said Debbie White, its president.

The newly announced mandate applies to health care and congregate settings, but private employers are free to institute even more stringent vaccine requirements — with or without offering the option for frequent testing for those who decline, Murphy said.

Private health systems and long-term care companies employing some 100,000 people in New Jersey already have imposed mandates, with deadlines this fall. the governor’s announcement will move up their schedule.

RWJBarnabas, the first of the state’s large health care employers to require vaccines for supervisors and above, fired six employees when they did not get a shot by the deadline. Now it has extended its requirement to all 35,000 employees.

Others requiring vaccination for employees include CareOne, a chain of nursing homes and assisted-living residences, Hackensack Meridian Health, Virtua Health, St. Joseph’s Health, and Valley Health.

Currently, a quarter of the population eligible for vaccines in the state remains unvaccinated, according to the state Department of Health. The vaccination rate for the entire population, including children who are ineligible for currently authorized vaccines, is 58.5%, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Younger people are least likely to be vaccinated, nationally and in New Jersey.

Reasons vary, but national polling shows that 6% of the population will get vaccinated “only if required.” Those aged 18 through 29 and those without a college education are more likely than others to express that attitude.

Another 10% have a “wait and see attitude” toward the vaccines. Blacks, Hispanics and those younger than 30 are more likely to fall into that category. And 14% say they “definitely will not” get a vaccine, no matter what. Republicans and those aged 30 to 49 are more likely to say this.

Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for the shots. Pfizer-BioNTech, maker of the only vaccine currently authorized for those 12 through 16, has said it intends to apply to regulators this fall to expand that authorizations to younger children.

Murphy’s action followed vaccine mandates announced last week by President Joe Biden, the governors of New York and California, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.Vaccine mandates for health care workers are not new. A state law that took effect last year requires health care workers to be vaccinated against the flu, unless they have a medical exemption.

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