Editorial: Mayor, manager need to finally lead on vaccine/testing - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Mayor, manager need to finally lead on vaccine/testing

For about 10 days, Mayor Tim Keller was for a city-employee COVID vaccine-testing mandate. Then he was against it.

After months of unnecessary delays, in the middle of a global pandemic, Keller finally did the right thing after being re-elected and announced Jan. 11 the city would require all of its 6,300 budgeted workers to report their COVID-19 vaccination status by Jan. 14. Those who couldn’t prove they were fully vaccinated would have to commit to weekly testing starting Feb. 7 or risk being placed on unpaid leave.

It was a reasonable accommodation that provided employees a vaccination out while protecting public health. In New Mexico 6,317 people have died of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic — around the same number as the city workforce — and the Department of Health reported last week about 89% of all who died in the last year were not vaccinated.

The mayor’s take-back announcement came almost six months after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order requiring all state employees, including State Police and corrections officers, to either be fully vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Using the cover of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Keller administration reversed course and paused the implementation of its vaccine-or-test policy.

Yet the Supreme Court ruling blocked the implementation of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules on large employers; it didn’t preclude employers, be they state, municipality or private sector, from mandating vaccines or regular testing. The governor did not reverse course.

Mayoral spokeswoman Ava Montoya said the city “is pausing the implementation of a vaccination or testing policy for city employees” and will continue strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated. At this point in the pandemic, that’s like strongly encouraging children to eat their vegetables.

And the issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Council President Isaac Benton introduced a bill last fall that would require vaccines among the city’s public safety employees unless they have a documented medical or religious exemption, in which case the city would require weekly COVID-19 tests. Council Vice President Dan Lewis recently introduced legislation to prohibit the city from mandating vaccines for any of its workers. Both are at the committee level; a clash of philosophies seems inevitable with the newly constituted City Council.

The mayor needs to get off the fence and make it clear which side he’s on. The governor has strongly encouraged other governmental agencies to consider mandating vaccinations or testing, but that memo has apparently escaped the 11th floor at City Hall.

Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said in September she decided against a vaccine mandate for the county’s 2,600 employees in part due to a fear of losing public safety employees. At least she was honest and owned it. And Morgas Baca said last fall she was prepared to revise the policy based on COVID infection rates. Back then, a thousand new cases a day was a record high and hospitalizations were half of what they are now (Tuesday we hit 678). The state set new records for COVID cases three days in a row last week, topping out at 6,198 new cases Friday.

Given the spread of the omicron variant, it’s also time for Bernalillo County to re-evaluate its COVID policy.

You can’t go to a game at the Pit without proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test, and Albuquerque Public Schools is allowing no more than two fans per player at sporting events. Yet, if you work for the city or county, you can interact with the public all day long without being vaccinated or needing to show proof of a recent negative COVID test, even as daily cases top records and hospitals implement crisis standards of care.

Where is the Metro area’s leadership? Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are ground zero of the virus’ spread in New Mexico — 129,691 cases as of Tuesday.

The mayor and City Council, and county manager and County Commission, need to take an honest look at the data and science and go on the record with a policy that puts residents’ health and safety first.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

Home » Opinion » Editorials » Editorial: Mayor, manager need to finally lead on vaccine/testing


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Editorial: Make fire-ravaged NM whole
Editorials
The federal response to Gov. Michelle ... The federal response to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's request for disaster relief as a result ...
2
Editorial: Ronchetti best among GOP field for governor
Editorials
Today, the Journal concludes its endorsements ... Today, the Journal concludes its endorsements in contested primary races with its picks for governor ...
3
Editorial: Journal announces endorsements for state AG, auditor and ...
Editorials
Today, the Journal announces its endorsements ... Today, the Journal announces its endorsements in contested primary races for New Mexico attorney gen ...
4
Editorial: Journal backs Garcia Holmes and Vasquez in CD1 ...
Editorials
Today, the Journal announces its endorsements ... Today, the Journal announces its endorsements for contested primary races for the U.S. House of Repr ...
5
Editorial: Journal announces endorsements for BernCO commission and county ...
Editorials
Today, the Journal announces its primary ... Today, the Journal announces its primary endorsements for Bernalillo County commission and county assessor.
6
Editorial: Journal announces endorsements for sheriff and judges
Editorials
Today, the Journal announces its primary ... Today, the Journal announces its primary endorsements for Bernalillo County sheriff and contested ra ...
7
Editorial: Pretrial release decisions must hinge on good police ...
Editorials
During election season in New Mexico, ... During election season in New Mexico, promises to crack down on crime are ubiquitous — on both ...
8
Editorial: Journal concludes primary endorsements for NM House
Editorials
Today, the Journal continues endorsements for ... Today, the Journal continues endorsements for contested primary legislative races in the metro area. ...
9
Editorial: Journal begins ’22 endorsements with NM House of ...
Editorials
For ongoing coverage that will include ... For ongoing coverage that will include candidate profiles, Q&As and endorsements as they are published, go to www.abqjournal.com/2498103/2022-primary-election.html.