UPDATE, Feb. 18
Today, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) announced they will not enforce the booster mandate for healthcare workers, which was set to go into effect on Feb. 21. Enforcement of the mandate will be delayed and reassessed in three months to increase time and access for healthcare workers to receive the booster, and in recognition of the severe staffing shortages facilities already face. This is welcome news for NYSNA, who has been expressing concerns about the impact of the mandate in discussions with the Governor’s office and the DOH.
At the direction of our Board of Directors, NYSNA issued a statement calling for a repeal of New York state’s COVID-19 booster mandate and for New York to mandate that employers implement NYSNA’s Omicron demands.
NYSNA has been fighting on multiple fronts to ensure our employers are not relying solely on vaccination to protect the health and safety of our members and patients. We requested COVID-19 logs from all our employers, which are supposed to document all healthcare worker infections in our facilities. Data from the logs informed NYSNA’s statement, and we are filing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints against employers who have not provided their COVID-19 logs to us.
After numerous conversations with NYSNA, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) agreed on Feb. 4 to update isolation and quarantine standards for healthcare workers, including returning to “conventional standards” of 7 to 10 days.
While this is progress, more must be done to prevent COVID-19 infections and keep healthcare workers safe. That’s why NYSNA is in discussions with the Governor’s office and the DOH to implement our Omicron demands and repeal the booster mandate.
Full statement text:
Statement Regarding the NYS COVID-19 Booster Mandate for Healthcare Workers
NYSNA encourages its members to get the COVID-19 booster vaccine, especially those who are at high risk for severe illness and those who work in high-risk areas for exposure.
NYSNA recognizes that to get the most benefit, the timing of when the booster should be taken varies among individuals and should be determined in consultation with a healthcare provider. This makes a booster mandate with a deadline not only extremely difficult to implement but could potentially result in individuals not getting the maximum benefit from the booster.
Right now, NYSNA is talking with many employers about the unwieldy nature of this mandate. Many employers agree that a hard date is impossible to enforce when there are massive variances on first and second dose dates, recent COVID-19 infections among the workforce, and individual physician guidance that directly conflicts with the hard booster date set by New York State. It is clearly an ineffective mandate that will lead to more nurses leaving the facility and mandatory boosters that will have less impact because of the artificial deadline.
COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be highly effective against severe illness and hospitalization, but the Omicron surge has laid bare the reality that many other preventative measures and regulatory mandates are needed for healthcare employers. In the last weeks of December 2021 and the first week of January 2022, over 11,200 healthcare workers became infected with COVID-19 at the 45 acute care facilities that NYSNA represents. By law, all of those 11,200 workers were required to be vaccinated. The numbers for the rest of January will very likely bring that number above 20,000 for just those 45 hospitals.
Of note, as New York was experiencing record rates of infection during Omicron, standards for quarantine and isolation were reduced, and the OSHA Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard designed to protect healthcare workers and our patients was allowed to expire.
The simple fact is that imposing mandates solely on workers to achieve control of COVID-19 transmission in the healthcare environment has failed. That is why NYSNA is demanding a shift in the pandemic response—and in healthcare—where patients and the public health are prioritized, instead of the short-term solutions that favor profits and healthcare corporations.
Scientifically-based standards for PPE, ventilation, staffing, isolation and quarantine must be mandatory for healthcare employers and not subject to interpretation and subjectivity. Read more about NYSNA’s Omicron surge demands here: https://www.nysna.org/omicron-demands.
For all these reasons, NYSNA calls upon the NYS DOH to repeal the booster mandate for healthcare workers. Nurses need the state and health agencies to regulate unsafe employers, mandate a return to "conventional" standards for isolation, quarantine, and PPE, and implement NYSNA’s Omicron demands instead of this incomplete approach.