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Briefing on the coronavirus: what happened today


In an early test of employer mandates in the US, tens of thousands of health workers in New York are at risk of losing their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated.

About 90 percent of the 600,000 health workers in the state have already received at least one shot. The remaining workers have until 11:59 p.m. to get a dose.

“It’s almost like a game of chicken,” says our colleague Sharon Otterman, who reports on the New York pandemic. “Health systems, in the midst of a nurse shortage, in the midst of a pandemic, are at risk of further staff shortages. And on the health side, some are asking, ‘How strong are my fears about the vaccine and am I willing to give up my job for it?’”

In some states, such as California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois, employees have the option of getting tested regularly if they choose not to get vaccinated. But in New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Oregon and the District of Columbia, health workers must get vaccinated to stay on the job unless they’ve approved waivers.

Experts have called vaccination mandates a simple way for health professionals to prevent new waves of infection and persuade doubters to get vaccinated. But a vocal minority of New York’s health professionals have resisted the order because they’re concerned about potential side effects, or say it violates their personal freedom.

Covid-19 vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing symptomatic infections, serious illness and death. Side effects of the vaccine, if any, are usually minor and short-lived.

New York officials are now bracing for potential staff disruptions in healthcare facilities. Government Kathy Hochul said last week that she could declare a state of emergency and deploy the National Guard. She also came up with the idea of ​​recruiting temporary workers from the Philippines or Ireland.

At least eight lawsuits are pending against the state mandate, and another mandate — for adults who work in public schools in New York City — was deferred by a federal court last week.

Healthcare employers, however, are going ahead, telling unvaccinated employees without approved waivers not to report for duty tomorrow, or giving their employees unpaid leave to consider it.

“The question is, are they going to bow?” said Sharon. “So far it seems that a lot of people are coming in at the last minute. Healthcare systems all saw major increases in their vaccination rates over the past weekend, with thousands of people vaccinated.”

In many workplaces, the conversation about Covid is starting to move away from alarm to a safe future.

But in fast food restaurants, supermarkets, warehouses, nursing homes, and everywhere frontline workers show up every day, in many ways it remains late 2020. A deep schism has ensued. Employees who are nervous about the virus are at the mercy of customers who are not.

Conditions are especially tense in low-vaccination states such as Louisiana.

“Every day is frightening,” says Peter Naughton, a Walmart cashier and self-checkout host, who lives in Baton Rouge, LA.

“When I ask people to wear a mask or to distance themselves at work, they get mad and tell the manager,” Naughton said, adding, “Then I need to be coached. If you’re coached too often “You lose your job,” he said, referring to the company’s system for managing employee violations.

Covid appears to have been good for Walmart’s profits: During fiscal year 2020, the company generated revenue of $559 billion, up $35 billion from the previous year. But labor activists say too little of that money has gone to protecting the workforce, which in turn has prolonged the pandemic.

In a May 2020 survey of non-temporary employees at Walmart conducted by United for Respect, a nonprofit labor advocacy group, nearly half said they had or would come to work sick for fear of retaliation. In an April 2021 report, the group found that if Walmart had a more robust paid sick leave policy, the company could have prevented at least 7,618 Covid cases and saved 133 lives.

Every day when I enter my school building, I give myself a pep talk. It’ll be fine, you’ll be there for the students, the mask doesn’t matter, take things as they come, etc. It helps.

— Muriel Ventura, Long Island, NY

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