Vax on, vax off: City reverses course on policy - Albuquerque Journal

Vax on, vax off: City reverses course on policy

Presbyterian Hospital nurse Claire Simons processes testing kits at the COVID-19 drive-thru on San Mateo NE, near McLeod, on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, the city of Albuquerque will not proceed as planned with its COVID-19 vaccine or testing requirement for employees.

Mayor Tim Keller and other officials last week had announced the city would require all of its workers to report their vaccine status by Friday. Those not fully vaccinated were going to have to begin a weekly testing regimen to prove they were not actively infected with COVID-19.

Keller had said the city was preparing to meet federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules for employers with at least 100 workers.

But the Supreme Court last week blocked the regulations.

As a result, “the City of Albuquerque is pausing the implementation of a vaccination or testing policy for City employees,” mayoral spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in a written statement.

The city government has about 6,300 jobs, though hundreds are presently unfilled.

Montoya said the city continues to offer employees paid time off to get COVID-19 vaccines.

“The City strongly encourages employees to get vaccinated and boosted to protect against illness, and hosts weekly vaccine opportunities for employees and the public at City facilities. The City continues to require masking for employees and visitors to City facilities, and has made high-quality masks available to CABQ employees,” she said.

Keller had said last week he would consider using his authority to implement a similar vaccine-or-testing policy for the city’s workforce regardless of what the Supreme Court ultimately did. Asked Thursday if he would still consider such action – and, if so, what data would factor into his decision – Montoya did not provide specifics.

“The City continues to closely monitor the Omicron wave. At this time, the City is focused on following the existing federal and state guidelines and providing easy opportunities to get vaccinated. This approach has helped the City ensure reliable delivery of services throughout the pandemic,” she wrote.

The vaccine mandate issue is not necessarily dead, as two related – and competing proposals – are still pending before the Albuquerque City Council.

Council President Isaac Benton last fall introduced a bill that would require vaccines among the city’s public safety employees, such as police officers and firefighters, unless they had a documented medical or religious exemption. In those cases, the city would require weekly COVID-19 tests. That bill remains in committee. More recently, Council Vice President Dan Lewis introduced legislation that would prohibit the city from mandating vaccines for any of its workers. It has been referred to committee.

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