As NYC vaccination deadline approaches, contingency plan centers on OT, reassignment

Mayor de Blasio says the city's agencies, like FDNY and NYPD, are prepared to deal with potential staff shortages


Gail Lubin
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

NEW YORK — With just days left until the deadline for every New York City worker to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio says he feels "ready," and that the city's agencies are prepared to deal with potential staff shortages.

"It is about overtime, it is about shifting assignments to where there's particular need," de Blasio said at a press briefing Wednesday when asked about how the city will fill-in for first responders, if coverage is needed.

An FDNY nurse administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to an FDNY firefighter at the Fire Department Headquarters in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.
An FDNY nurse administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to an FDNY firefighter at the Fire Department Headquarters in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. (Photo/MCT)

He also said that the city will draw on lessons learned at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, when the disease tore through the ranks of essential employees like cops and firefighters.

"Our — remember, our first responder agencies, our uniformed agencies went through so much last year where they had huge numbers of members out because of COVID and they had to keep making constant adjustments to provide the services we need to keep people safe — and they did it and they did it very well."

In April 2020, for example, nearly 20% of NYPD staff were out sick at the same time.

At the time, the Advance/SILive.com reported that the department was tackling the problem with 12 hour shifts and with having detectives replace patrol officers who were out sick.

Some officers were also moved around, reassigned to the hardest-hit precincts, with some experiencing up to 30% of officers out sick.

Reports put the approximate police department vaccination rate last week at 70%, the fire department at 60% and the sanitation department at 65%.

"[T]hese are agencies that have been preparing for months," de Blasio said. "Every one of the commissioners has been absolutely confident that they can make the adjustments and every one of the commissioners has adamantly wanted us to move forward with a vaccine mandate. So, I feel ready."

De Blasio also said he expects now is the time the percentage of city workers being inoculated will spike.

"What I expect is a surge of activity, particularly on Friday," de Blasio said at a press briefing Wednesday.

"I think we're going to see a lot more in the next few days," he added.

All city Department of Education staff have been required to have the vaccine since Oct. 1, and medical workers since Sept. 27, and the mayor says there were many 11th-hour vaccinations among both teachers and hospital staff.

"[W]e had this pattern with the health care workers. We had this pattern with everyone who works for Department of Education, which is, by far, our biggest agency — a surge of vaccination right up on the deadline," he said. "And then, some people who didn't get vaccinated by the deadline, but recognize that they're about to be put on unpaid leave, who would then go out and get vaccinated immediately, and then even others who get vaccinated in the days after."

Despite the confidence expressed by the mayor, city workers have continued to protest, and on Monday the police officers union filed a lawsuit against the city over the mandates.

And on Staten Island, delays in trash pickup that Department of Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson tied to the looming mandates, has led to garbage piling up on curbs around the borough.

"We are anti-mandate," said Eric Bischoff, the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association's Staten Island Trustee, during a protest on Staten Island last weekend. "We do not want our members be forced to get a vaccination that they don't want and that we don't believe they need. It's about an anti-mandate...We're going to stick together and fight this mandate, and hopefully, please, Mayor de Blasio, listen to us, work with us, talk to us, understand where we're coming from. We're not adversarial, we want to serve this city. Work with us...This mandate is not acceptable by any union in the city of New York."

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(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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