It wasn't enough for New York City to require all of its public school teachers and staff to get vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus. Now, the city is requiring teachers and staff at private schools, as well as religiously-affiliated Catholic schools and yeshivas to get vaccinated, as Emma G. Fitzsimmons reported on Thursday for The New York Times. Fitzsimmons noted it is "believed to be the largest effort in the nation to force religious schools to adhere to a vaccine mandate." The mandate will affect approximately 930 schools and 56,000 employees.
The announcement from Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat with less than a month in office who is known for some particularly stringent coronavirus measures, was immediately met with backlash. As Fitzsimmons reported:
But the decision to include religious schools and not allow religious exemptions faced immediate opposition from some Jewish and Catholic leaders, who sent a letter to Mr. de Blasio on Thursday urging him to reconsider.
“This is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce,” said the letter from Rabbi David Zwiebel, the chairman of a group that represents religious and independent school leaders.
It is unclear how the city will enforce the mandate against schools or staff members that refuse to comply — a problem that could fall to Eric Adams, the mayor-elect who takes office on Jan. 1.
The mandate requires teachers and staff to receive at least one of the vaccines by December 20, less than three weeks away. As opponents have highlighted, it could be particularly devastating in the way it impacts students and teachers midway through the school year:
Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, the superintendent of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s schools, signed on to the letter with Rabbi Zwiebel. At Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens, the vaccination rate for teachers and staff members is about 88 percent, his spokesman said.
The letter argued that the mandate could be “devastating to our schools and the children they serve” if teachers who are not vaccinated lose their jobs during the middle of the school year.
“Some schools may even be forced to close because of the severe shortage of teachers,” it said.
While Fitzsimmons writes that de Blasio "has longstanding political ties to the ultra-Orthodox community," it's also worth highlighting that the mayor has faced criticism over how he targeted the Jewish community during the pandemic last year in a series of tweets that he doubled down on.
Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic. When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
We have lost so many these last two months + I understand the instinct to gather to mourn. But large gatherings will only lead to more deaths + more families in mourning. We will not allow this. I have instructed the NYPD to have one standard for this whole city: zero tolerance.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
Earlier today the NYPD shut down a Yeshiva conducting classes with as many as 70 children. I can’t stress how dangerous this is for our young people. We’re issuing a Cease and Desist Order and will make sure we keep our communities and our kids safe.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) May 18, 2020
It's not merely the city where residents are subject to strict measures against the virus. New York is just one of three states without religious exemptions for vaccines, the others being Rhode Island and Maine.
As Leah reported on Monday, the Mount Sinai South Nassau-operated Long Beach Emergency Department has had to temporarily shut down due to staff shortages as a result of vaccine mandates.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) has mocked those who would try to claim religious exemptions.
Last Friday she declared a state of an emergency in reaction to the omicron variant before it had even arrived in the state or the country, which includes a halt on elective surgeries.
As The New York Post reported on Thursday night, though, five cases have since been reported in New York State. "No cause for alarm, we just want to make sure the public is aware of information when we receive it," the governor said, despite having declared and not rescinded her state of emergency.
As was the case with other vaccine mandates throughout the country, it is expected that there will be lawsuits against this one.
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