Boston Mayor Kim Janey on Thursday announced a COVID vaccine policy for all city employees, requiring them to verify their vaccination status or get tested weekly.
"Our purpose is to protect our employees and the public," she said during a news conference at Boston City Hall.
The plan goes into effect in phases starting in September, Janey said.
Asked whether she's considering a larger vaccine mandate for the city -- one is not currently in place -- Janey said she would follow the science.
"Should we get to the point where we will need to do that in large venues, then we will absolutely do that," she said, when asked about criticism that the city doesn't have a vaccine mandate for places like indoor theaters.
The city employs 18,000 people, and those who don't verify that they've been vaccinated through a "secure, centralized, digital portal" will be able to get tested at locations throughout the city, including at City Hall, Janey said.
Employees who work directly with high-priority Boston residents, like at public schools, libraries, Boston Centers for Youth & Families and more, will have to comply with the policy by Sept. 20. Other public-facing city workers, contractors and volunteers, like ones who work in public safety and at parks will have to verify their vaccination status or get tested by Oct. 4. The rest of the employees and contractors will have until Oct. 18 to comply.
The mayor noted she'd been working with union leaders on the COVID-19 vaccine mandate -- something she's discussed before -- and the head of the Boston Boston Teachers Union, Jessica Tang, applauded the move in a statement released by the city.
"This policy feels consistent with prior policies around vaccinating against other dangerous viruses and diseases. It is our belief that public health policies like this should be made with input from those impacted by the policy, and we appreciate the diligent work Mayor Janey has done with her administration to consider worker voices in this process, and to do what is best and safest for Boston as a whole," she said.
In a bid to encourage city workers to get the vaccine, one fully vaccinated, benefit-eligible employee a week will given an extra week of paid leave.
Janey's announcement comes as city metrics tick up to an average of 119 new cases per day. She warned that the virus is likely to be part of daily life for some time: "We will see ebbs and flows of COVID cases, and we will need to ensure that our hospital capacity … remains below the threshold. The best way to do that is by getting people vaccinated."
Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu has been calling on Janey to move more quickly and show stronger leadership when it comes to vaccine mandates.
Wu, a city councilor, took a shot at Thursday's announcement by railing against "half measures" and adding, "City Hall must set out regulations on vaccination for high-risk indoor spaces like gyms, salons, and restaurants to ensure protections for all our communities."
Another candidate, Andrea Campbell, said the city worker vaccine mandate is "the type of decision that should take hours or days."
Janey has also been criticized for saying she has no plans to implement a vaccine passport similar to the one being proposed in New York City. But the mayor has said a vaccine passport would shut out nearly 40% of East Boston and 60% of Mattapan from venues like restaurants and gyms.
While Janey has said she does not support requiring diners to show proof of vaccination before eating indoors, a small but growing number of Boston-area restaurant owners have devised their own plans to make indoor dining safer.
"I think so many of us had hoped we would be much further along," Wu said. "We need to be setting the parameters and working with our business owners to get to the place where we have standards for proof of vaccination for high-risk indoor activities."
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Wu also organized a group of Boston restaurant and business owners who have called for more guidance from city officials to protect their employees and patrons amid an alarming uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Boston, like most the of the rest of Massachusetts, is within the zone where people are advised to wear masks indoors in public settings.
"We can’t afford to shut down again," said Chef Jody Adams, who is a part of the group.
Boston mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell held two press conferences in the past week criticizing Janey for taking too long to set clear COVID guidelines, including proof of vaccination.
Janey responded to some of that criticism Wednesday, saying, "People can talk about whatever they want to talk about. What is important is action."
Janey has said the city continues to boost vaccination across Boston by partnering with trusted community-based organizations and focusing on communities that have been the hardest hit.
"We must all do our part to fight the pandemic," she said. "Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect ourselves and our loved ones and our communities from this deadly virus."