California, New York City to mandate vaccines for public workers

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Public employees in the state of California and New York City will be required to get a Covid-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing, as officials across the country try to curb a rising number of infections tied to the spread of the contagious Delta variant.

The moves by the most populous state and city in the US, respectively, are designed to boost vaccine take-up as the rate of inoculations has stalled, leading to fresh outbreaks of the disease.

Starting in August, all California employees, along with healthcare workers, must show proof of their vaccination status or be tested regularly, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday.

Bill de Blasio, New York City mayor, announced a similar mandate to take effect for city workers — including police, firefighters and teachers — beginning in mid-September. The city’s healthcare workers will be required to comply by next week.

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Newsom and de Blasio, both Democrats, said they hoped private employers would follow suit. “Go as far as you can go,” de Blasio said.

After a rapid rollout of vaccines this spring, Covid-19 infections in the US began to drop sharply. But that trend has reversed itself in recent weeks, with new cases topping more than 60,000 a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

US health officials have described it as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, saying that people who are unable or unwilling to get the jab account for the vast majority of cases.

The Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency on Monday to issue a vaccine mandate, requiring all of its medical employees to get a jab within eight weeks. It said that four of its employees, all of whom were unvaccinated, had died from Covid-19 in recent weeks.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said on Monday that US public health officials were debating whether to revise mask guidance, which had been relaxed several months ago as the number of new cases fell.

The county surrounding Los Angeles reinstated its mask mandate in mid-June, barely a month after it was lifted on June 15 to coincide with a broad reopening of California’s economy. Cities including St Louis, in Delta variant-hotspot Missouri, and Savannah, Georgia, have since followed suit and ordered universal masking again.

San Francisco was one of the first big US cities earlier this month to require vaccination or testing of its public employees, while three counties in the surrounding Bay Area urged employers to do the same.

Faced with a slowdown in vaccine take-up and an increase in new coronavirus infections linked to the Delta variant, Newsom took aim on Monday at people and institutions spreading misinformation and contributing to vaccine hesitancy.

“We are exhausted by the rightwing echo chamber that is perpetuating misinformation about the vaccine and its efficacy,” he said, singling out Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican member of the US House of Representatives from Georgia, for criticism.

Additional reporting by Matthew Rocco

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