The Mount Sinai Health System announced on Thursday that COVID-19 vaccinations would be required for all faculty and staff by Sept. 13 as coronavirus cases and deaths continued to climb across Long Island.
Officials at the Mount Sinai Health System, which includes Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, said the mandate was being instituted due to the "rapid spread" of the delta variant. All employees must receive at least the first dose of a vaccine by Sept. 13, with limited exceptions for religious and medical reasons. Employees who work fully remotely or have a current remote work agreement are also exempted, officials said.
Vaccines are the best protection against the virus, Mount Sinai Health System president and CEO Kenneth L. Davis told his staff in a statement.
"As a hospital, a school, and a health care provider, we have responsibilities not only to each other, but to the communities we serve," Davis said. "And the right thing to do for our communities — and our Mount Sinai family — is to make sure we are all vaccinated against COVID-19."
Any Mount Sinai employee who does not comply with the requirement — and does not have an allowable exemption — will face disciplinary action, "up to and including termination," the statement said.
The Mount Sinai Health System has more than 7,200 physicians and more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout New York City, Westchester and Long Island.
Long Island reported 749 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — 414 in Nassau and 335 in Suffolk, state figures released Thursday show. Deaths statewide increased by one to 16 on Wednesday, including four in Suffolk and one in Nassau.
Meanwhile, two medical experts who participated in Thursday’s NewsdayLive webinar said the COVID-19 delta variant was much more transmissible than previous versions of the virus. People infected now almost certainly have the delta variant, they said.
"Sampling has told us that 94% of all new cases are the delta variant," said Dr. Adhi Sharma, chief medical officer and executive vice president for clinical and professional affairs at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital. So, he said, "assume you have delta unless proven otherwise" if you get COVID-19.
Contact tracing efforts found only about 10% of those getting COVID-19 now had been vaccinated — and those who did get the jabs generally have milder, less-severe symptoms than the unvaccinated, Sharma said.
"It is reassuring to know that those who were vaccinated survived their course [with COVID]," said Dr. Nicolas Hernandez, family medicine specialist and attending physician at Northwell Health Plainview Hospital.
The unvaccinated are still suffering the worst consequences — even dying — from COVID-19, the experts said. The virus will continue to spread until herd immunity is reached, which won’t happen as long as a significant portion of the population remains unvaccinated. The Labor Day weekend may trigger spikes, the doctors said.
The experts agreed that masking is still recommended for the vaccinated, even in outdoor settings with large gatherings, because the delta variant is highly transmissible. The potential for infection remains highest in indoor gatherings — especially if people remove their masks to eat, according to the experts, who advised caution in those settings.
The state Education Department Thursday issued a "Health and Safety Guide" that summarizes recommendations made by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, to help schools cope with the COVID-19 virus. The guidelines are for school openings scheduled for later this month and in September.
Recommendations call for at least 3 feet of physical distancing between students in classrooms, combined with indoor mask-wearing by all students and school staff. School districts also are cautioned to remain flexible in their approaches, and be prepared to increase social distancing and to pivot to remote instruction if virus transmission rates rise to dangerous levels.
"It reinforces what has already been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Pediatrics Association, so that gives us some guidance and direction," said Robert Dillon, superintendent of the regional Nassau County BOCES educational system based in Garden City. "This is something we’ve been waiting for."
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that 50,000 New Yorkers have received the $100 vaccine incentive offered at city-operated sites. Most of the cards, he said, have gone to people of color.
"This is clearly a smart, effective way to drive up vaccination rates," de Blasio said. "It’s proof that more cities and states across the country should follow President Biden’s urging to adopt New York City’s $100 incentive."
According to data at city-run vaccination sites, of the 50,000 people who have received the $100 incentive, 43% self-identified as Hispanic, 21% as Black, 13% as Asian, 9% as white, 5% as other and 7% preferred not to say. In addition, 23% of those who selected to receive $100 are under age 18, 36% are 18-34, 38% are 35-64, 3% are 65-74 and 1% are over 75.
With John Hildebrand
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