Covid-19 Updates: Many N.Y.C. Sanitation Workers Get Last-Minute Vaccinations

ImageA demonstration on Thursday at Gracie Mansion, the New York City mayor’s official residence. Thousands of those employed by the city, including firefighters and police officers, have yet to comply with a vaccine mandate.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Vaccination rates in crucial New York City departments have risen over the last week as Friday’s deadline loomed for police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and other city employees to receive a first dose of a Covid vaccine.

The most startling increase was in the Sanitation Department, whose number of vaccinated workers rose from 67 percent on Thursday to 76 percent as of Friday evening, according to City Hall. “Very, very encouraging progress,” tweeted Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Police Department said its overall vaccination rate reached 84 percent by Friday evening, up from less than 75 percent last week. But only about 69 percent of those employed by the Fire Department had received at least one dose by Friday afternoon, officials said.

Tensions among some New Yorkers have been rising as the timetable for more than 300,000 city workers to receive a Covid vaccination neared its end. The official deadline was Friday at 5 p.m., but unvaccinated workers will be allowed to work until Monday before being placed on unpaid leave.

Mr. de Blasio has said he does not expect significant disruptions to government agencies or city life from potential staffing shortages on Monday, and the rising vaccination rates among some departments offered at least some validation for his optimism.

The resistance in the Fire Department was underscored when six New York City firefighters were relieved of duty and left facing possible penalties after driving to the office of a state senator on Friday, confronting his staff members over the city’s vaccine mandate and asking for his home address.

The state senator, Zellnor Myrie, said that he was not present when they arrived at his office in the morning. But staff members told him that the firefighters, who were members of Ladder 113 in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens area of Brooklyn, said the mandate would result in a reduction of emergency services in the city — and that the officials responsible for it would “have blood on their hands.”

Mr. Myrie said his staff had been “rattled” by the experience and called the firefighters’ actions “highly inappropriate.” Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, said in a statement that the firefighters would face disciplinary action.

“This is a highly inappropriate act by on-duty members of this department who should only be concerned with responding to emergencies and helping New Yorkers and not harassing an elected official and his staff,” Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, said in a statement.

A union representing firefighters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said that thousands of people in his department had filed for exemptions, which can be filed on medical or religious grounds. He said that those who had done so by Wednesday would be allowed to work until their applications were reviewed, so long as they submitted to weekly testing.

But fire officials are expecting the closure of up to 20 percent of fire stations; Joe Borelli, a Republican City Council member who represents part of Staten Island, wrote on Twitter on Friday that five stations in Manhattan and the Bronx had already been shuttered.

And New Yorkers in some parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn have begun to report delays in trash collection and garbage buildups in their neighborhoods that officials say may continue because of staffing gaps.

“We’re definitely seeing that problem in some parts of the city,” Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday, “and it’s unacceptable.”

Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

American intelligence agencies are unlikely to be able to draw a firm conclusion about the origin of the novel coronavirus without more information from China on the earliest cases or new scientific discoveries about the nature of the virus, according to a newly declassified intelligence report released on Friday.

President Biden ordered the nation’s intelligence agencies in May to conduct a 90-day inquiry into the origins of the pandemic. When the key findings of that review were released in August, they failed to offer a single answer and instead reaffirmed the longstanding position of the agencies: The theory that the virus occurred naturally and the theory that it was accidentally created in a lab were both plausible.

But the report on Friday reiterated that the evidence to support either conclusion was thin, and that U.S. intelligence agencies know far too little about the origin of the virus. The intelligence community has concluded that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.

The intelligence report said the Wuhan Institute of Virology had previously made chimeras, or combinations of coronavirus that did not occur in nature. But that record provides little insight on whether the virus that causes Covid was genetically engineered, the report said.

The National Institutes of Health has said the chimera experiments in Wuhan were based on coronaviruses that were not the progenitors of the virus that causes Covid.

Credit…Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register, via Associated Press

Ten Republican-led states filed a lawsuit on Friday in federal court in Missouri accusing the Biden administration of a broad range of overreaches in mandating that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, was led by Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, and the attorney general of Nebraska, Doug Peterson. The other eight states are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The White House has previously defended President Biden’s vaccination mandates as “clearly legal and needed to help save lives and stop the spread of Covid-19.”

Republican leaders in many states have adamantly opposed any measures that would require vaccines or masks, saying they infringe on personal liberties. Some have banned any such mandates, and legal challenges have been making their way through the courts for months.

Mr. Schmitt called the mandate for federal contractors an “absurd federal overreach” and warned that it could worsen problems with the nation’s supply chain and its labor supply that have arisen during the pandemic.

The lawsuit asserts that the executive order mandating vaccinations that President Biden issued in September violates the 10th Amendment, the Constitution’s separation of powers, and several federal laws.

Legal experts have said that similar lawsuits from other states were unlikely to succeed, including one filed by the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, on Thursday in Tampa.

One of the few approaches that seemed to offer such objections a chance at success — religious exemptions — suffered a blow on Friday when the Supreme Court declined to block Maine’s vaccination requirement for health care workers that did not include a religious exemption.

Credit…Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that vaccination provides stronger and more reliable protection against the coronavirus than a past infection does, the agency said on Friday.

Unvaccinated people who had previously recovered from a coronavirus infection were five times as likely to get Covid as people who had received both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, the C.D.C. said.

The study’s authors cautioned, however, that certain gaps in patient data and biases in their study participants could have influenced the results.

Covid-19 Updates: Many N.Y.C. Sanitation Workers Get Last-Minute Vaccinations

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