Philly’s COVID recovery

Philadelphia: Still no vaccine requirements for city workers, same with SEPTA and school district

The Kenney administration continues to avoid a mandate.

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at the opening of the FEMA clinic in March

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at the opening of the FEMA clinic in March

Emma Lee / WHYY
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As government agencies nationwide begin mandating vaccinations for employees amid coronavirus case surges, Philadelphia officials have no such plans in place — for now.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration confirmed it will not yet mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for the city’s 26,800 employees. And no mandates exist for SEPTA’s 9,000-member workforce or the school district’s 18,000 workers, officials confirmed.

“We will continue to assess the need to implement a vaccination mandate for our city workers and may make this a requirement at a future date,” said city spokesperson Joy Huertas.

Pressure is mounting on cities and states to require vaccination for government employees as coronavirus cases rise, driven by the highly transmittable delta variant that is spreading largely among the nation’s unvaccinated population.

California and New York City — the nation’s most populous state and biggest city — are now giving two options to their hundreds of thousands of employees: get vaccinated, or agree to weekly COVID-19 testing. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal government agency to require its health-care workers to get vaccinated within the next eight weeks. President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday a vaccine-or-testing mandate for all federal workers and contractors.

In both the private and public sector, vaccine requirements have become a flashpoint issue. Philly’s government agencies — some of the largest employers in town — are opting for a wait-and-see approach.

Coronavirus cases have increased fourfold nationwide over the last month, with every state reporting significant case growth, even as infections stay far below where they were at the height of the pandemic in the U.S.

Philadelphia health department data shows the number of positive cases has more than doubled over the last three weeks.

About half of SEPTA’s workforce is vaccinated

SEPTA does not have a policy specific to COVID vaccines. As of now, there is no mandate for employees, but SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said the agency will “closely monitor developments and make adjustments as needed,” while masking requirements remain in effect for both employees and transit riders.

The agency estimates about 60% of SEPTA employees have been vaccinated to date. The agency did not survey employees about vaccination, but nearly half of the 9,000-member workforce received doses through city partnerships with healthcare groups distributing vaccines for frontline workers. SEPTA also offered employees a $100 stipend once they were fully vaccinated and submitted their card as proof. Busch said 4,591 employees received the stipend.

“That alone is over half of the workforce, and we know there are many more who have received the vaccine but did not submit for the stipend,” he added.

No city departments requiring vaccines

No estimates exist across Philadelphia city government. In May, the union representing the city’s police officers and firefighters reported that nearly half of their members opted out of the vaccine, per the Inquirer.

Huertas, the Kenney spokesperson, said no department leaders have established their own vaccine requirements at this time.

The Philadelphia School District does not currently have a vaccine requirement in place for employees, but officials said they will “continue to review guidance from public health experts for all of our health and safety protocols.”

During vaccination clinics held at CHOP in the spring, health officials reported about 47% of eligible school employees received at least one dose of the vaccine. The CDC has not issued a top-down statement about shots for teachers and eligible students.

Some private employers are calling all workers ahead of returning to the office, while others haven’t issued a clear mandate.

Even in the medical world, policies are uneven. The University of Pennsylvania’s health care network has asked all 44,000 employees and clinical staff to be vaccinated by Sept. 1, while Temple University Hospital hasn’t made a decision to require shots, according to 6ABC.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s COVID recovery stories.

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