K-12 teachers added to list for mandatory COVID vaccinations
All teachers in kindergarten through grade 12 must be vaccinated by Sept. 27 or agree to weekly testing under an order Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday, as the number of people covered by the mandate continued to expand.
“Look, I’m not eager to do this. We’re doing everything we can to keep Connecticut safe,” Lamont said in a briefing Thursday. “We’ve got over 80 percent of our adults vaccinated.
Let’s build on that.”
The mandatory vaccine requirement applies to teachers in public and private schools under an order Lamont said he would sign. Also covered under the mandate rolled out Thursday are all state employees, as reported by Hearst CTInsider Wednesday.
The University of Connecticut on Tuesday ordered vaccinations or mandatory testing for all faculty and staff, after an order that students must be vaccinated
to attend classes. On Thursday, the state colleges and universities system joined UConn in the vaccine requirement.
Connecticut State Colleges and Universities announced Thursday it is eyeing a similar policy to UConn’s for its employees, which could come as soon as Friday. Students who participate in oncampus activities at CSCU institutions are already required to be vaccinated against the virus.
Also Thursday, Lamont tightened an existing vaccine mandate for state employees who work in hospitals. They will not have an option to avert the vaccinations by agreeing to weekly COVID testing. That rule is also in force for all nursing home and other long-term care employees and volunteers, under an agreement with the industry, effective Sept. 7.
The mandates allow for an affected person to claim a medical exemption as authorized by a health professional; or a “sincerely held religious objection” under federal civil rights law.
Reaction from the unions to Thursday’s announcement was mixed, with the largest teachers union expressing support. The coalition of more than 30 state employee unions issued a statement saying it recognizes the governor’s right to require vaccinations but that the state must negotiate over details of how it would work.
The governor also issued an order Thursday night allowing individuals, their doctors, and local health directors to access digital COVID-19 vaccine records from Connecticut’s immunization information system, which will allow people to more easily provide proof of vaccination, a growing requirement in workplaces and at private establishments. At least 37 other states, including New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have similar databases in place, according to the governor’s office.
The latest requirement for teachers and state employees goes into effect three days before Lamont’s pandemic-related executive
authority is set to expire.
Asked whether the new order was a sign he intends to request another extension of his powers, the governor said, “this is something I want to do in collaboration with the legislature and right now we’ve got it in place until Sept. 30.”
But, he added, “I think it’s easiest if you give the governor’s office some flexibility within narrowly defined health care protocols so we can react to the delta variant because you see how much has changed in the last 30 days.”
Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate said given latest COVID-19 surge, they would be open to a continuation of Lamont’s powers if the situation does not improve. Republican House leader Vincent Candelora said Thursday that lawmakers “need to begin the conversation of what things look like after Sept. 30.”
Candelora said it’s “reasonable” to require employees to be vaccinated or get tested weekly, especially if they work in a health care setting. “I’m not sure why we need it for workers who might be telecommuting or isolated,” he said.
Candelora later issued a joint
statement with Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly saying Lamont’s order “will surely trigger many immediately unanswerable questions from workers and entities impacted by it — from how much it will cost employees who instead choose weekly testing to the scope of disciplinary action faced by those who fail to comply with this mandate altogether.”
They said they hope the Lamont administration, during negotiations with union leaders, “will remain firm if talks extend beyond subjects such as disciplinary options and access to testing and vaccines.”
Must negotiate details
The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in a written statement that Lamont’s order “is a reasonable accommodation and should result in greater safety and almost everyone being vaccinated.”
But the statement added, “We want to ensure that the state assists school districts in providing the time and resources necessary to meet the vaccine mandate and testing requirements...That means a deadline that can be met by all
districts, and the clinics and supplies necessary to get the job done. We cannot afford to risk staffing shortages that could cause shutdowns and disruption as the school year begins.”
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which negotiates alongside more than 30 state employee unions, issued a statement that stopped short of support for the new requirements.
“Courts have upheld employer rights to mandate vaccination,” SEBAC said on its website. “The state of Connecticut is required to negotiate with their employees’ unions over the details and impacts of the EO and the Lamont Administration has acknowledged its obligation to do so. Our demand to bargain is effective immediately.”
Asked what those details might be, aides to Lamont said they were issues such as discipline and record-keeping, including documenting one of the two exemptions, not the order itself.
The weekly testing requirement also will need to be ironed out as unionized employees will have to negotiate with their employers how that process will work. Depending on their health plan, some employees could have to pay out of pocket for testing.
The SEBAC statement, similar to a statement earlier this week by the largest nursing home workers union, supported public safety broadly. “SEBAC is a strong advocate of doing all we can to protect the safety of members and the public in these unprecedented times.”
How many unvaccinated?
The state does not know how many employees are vaccinated and has not asked. Providers are not allowed to inform employers that someone has been vaccinated. With the mandate, the state will now be able to track this data.
Lamont estimated Thursday that 75 percent of teachers are vaccinated. The average vaccination rate for nursing home staff was 74 percent, as of Aug. 8, the latest state data available, up from 72 percent the week prior.
Prison staff, who are already required to submit to regular testing if they aren’t vaccinated, are one group of employees where rates are lagging, Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said Thursday. The “vast majority” of Connecticut adults are vaccinated, a sign Geballe said indicates rates are likely high among state workers.
Connecticut ranks second in the nation for its vaccination rate. Of people 12 and older who are eligible to get the shot, 74 percent are fully vaccinated, according to Thursday’s data.
Older age groups, those who are 55 and up, have full vaccination rates above 80 percent. The rate of fully inoculated people ages 45 to 54 is 73 percent, followed by 69 percent for 35- to 44year-olds and 60 percent for those 25-34.
Youth rates continue to lag behind adults. Fifty-seven percent of 16- and 17- year-olds have received the two-dose series from Pfizer-BioNTech, the only vaccine currently available to them, compared to 49 percent of 12- to 15year-olds.