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More LI hospital workers comply with mandate and get COVID-19 shot

Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside on

Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside on May 18, 2020. Credit: Newsday/Jeffrey Basinger

The number of employees who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 dropped in at least two hospitals on Long Island in a sign that a state mandate has compelled workers to get the shots rather than lose their jobs.

Mount Sinai South Nassau saw the number of employees holding out drop by about two-thirds this week as the state mandate for workers at hospitals and nursing homes to get vaccinated hit a Monday deadline, hospital officials said Friday.

The figure declined from 68 on Monday to 27 by Friday afternoon, said Joe Calderone, a spokesman for Mount Sinai South Nassau.

At the same time, Stony Brook University Hospital saw the number of its holdouts drop from close to 200 on Monday to 132 by Friday afternoon, hospital officials said. The system employs about 7,400 people.

Mount Sinai has suspended the 27 workers, who have until Monday to comply or they will be dismissed, Calderone said. That hospital employs 3,657 full- and part-time employees, and now has a 99% compliance level with the state mandate, he said.

The hospital is "pleased that an increasing number of our employees have opted to get vaccinated, which will help keep our patients, staff and community safe," Mount Sinai said in a statement.

The hospital "supports the New York State and federal mandates that health care workers receive the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves, their loved ones, the community and the patients we serve," the facility said. "The vaccines are safe and effective. We have repeatedly counseled unvaccinated staff who have concerns about the vaccine, providing information in Town Hall settings, unit meetings and during one-on-one discussions with our clinical experts."

Stony Brook University Hospital also has suspended without pay its workers who refuse to comply with the state law.

Vaccine holdouts fall statewide

The falling numbers at Mount Sinai and Stony Brook mirror a trend throughout the state as workers opt for the shots instead of losing their jobs, according to state officials.

Mount Sinai's 99% compliance level does not include 100 cases that are still pending among employees who claim religious exemptions to the mandate, Calderone said.

The cases of employees who say they can’t get the shots because of their religious beliefs or medical reasons are on hold while several court challenges in New York State are heard.

The absence of the suspended workers did not disrupt service at the hospital, Calderone said.

Mount Sinai and Stony Brook are among several health care facilities or systems on Long Island that fired, furloughed or suspended hundreds of workers this week to comply with the order. Northwell Health said early in the week it had fired about two dozen "unvaccinated leaders," while Catholic Health Services furloughed several hundred employees.

NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island said Friday it had fired 63 employees across its system for refusing to get the shot.

The mandate required all workers in hospitals and nursing homes to be vaccinated against the virus by midnight Monday.

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the order in August.

Gov. Kathy Hochul says patients deserve to know they will not be infected by staff at the facilities. Opponents say the shot mandate infringes on their religious beliefs or personal freedom, or they are worried about side effects.

Medical experts say the shots are safe and the only way to end the pandemic.

Long Island registered 714 new cases of the virus in test results from Thursday, with 272 in Nassau and 442 in Suffolk.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing continued to inch down, hitting 3.09% on Long Island.

Statewide, 37 people died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus, including two in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

Death of first LIRR conductor to COVID

The Long Island Rail Road on Friday reported the first death of one of its conductors to COVID-19.

Anthony Shiu, who joined the LIRR in 1998, died Sept. 27 of the virus, according to the railroad.

Shiu, whose wife also works for the railroad, is the seventh LIRR employee to die from the coronavirus. Railroad officials would not disclose Shiu’s vaccination status, nor the last time he worked on a train.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — the union that represents LIRR conductors — says his organization "will be there for our brother Anthony Shiu’s family in any possible way we can."

Just over 58% of the LIRR’s approximately 7,000 employees are vaccinated, according to the railroad.

Meanwhile, the LIRR’s parent organization, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, announced Friday that, beginning next week, all new employees must be vaccinated.

"The MTA is an industry leader in protecting the health and safety of transit workers," acting MTA chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber said in a statement. "The science is clear. Vaccines are the best way to protect yourself, colleagues, relatives and neighbors from COVID-19."

The MTA had adopted a requirement that all employees be vaccinated, or have to undergo weekly testing, by Labor Day. But the agency postponed enacting the mandate after a worker backlash.

Court issues stay on religious exemption

Late Thursday, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit effectively put on hold for two weeks the mandate for health care workers claiming a religious exemption.

Otherwise, Hochul’s order will proceed, officials said.

"The vaccine mandate for health care workers is a critical tool to protect New Yorkers," a spokesperson for Hochul said in a statement. "This order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, as it simply temporarily bars the Department of Health from interfering with claims for religious exemption. We have no further comment on this pending litigation."

Hours before the deadline for New York City school employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or face termination, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that 90% had already received at least one dose and an army of substitute teachers was ready to step in to fill any gaps.

"We have thousands and thousands of high-quality substitute teachers … vaccinated, ready, pumped up to have the opportunity to serve," he said in an appearance on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" Friday.

Roughly 148,000 school employees had until 5 p.m. Friday to get vaccinated.

High court won't block NYC mandate

Late Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refused to block New York City's COVID-19 vaccine requirement for public school employees. A group of teachers had asked the high court Thursday for an emergency injunction on the mandate.

Unvaccinated school staff face suspension without pay when schools open on Monday.

An original deadline earlier this week was delayed by a legal challenge. A federal appeals panel decided Monday that the nation's largest school district could go ahead with the mandate.

On Friday, de Blasio said the school mandate — and an earlier mandate requiring vaccinations for indoor restaurant dining — were making the city safer.

"Mandates work," he said. "I urge every mayor in America — do it now."

The school mandate had given parents the confidence to return their children to in-person attendance, he said.

Citywide, he said, 83% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 93% of teachers and 98% of principals.

Pop-up vaccination site in Mastic

State and county officials on Friday held 20 "Vax to School" pop-up vaccination events across the state, including one at the Mastic Beach Fire House, to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among school-aged New Yorkers.

The event attracted children and adults, including some who wanted a COVID-19 booster.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said it’s important to increase vaccination rates among young people. Just over 60% of New Yorkers ages 12 to 15 have received at least one dose, according to State Health Department data.

Doctors in a Newsday webinar on vaccine boosters Friday said people with weakened immune systems should get the extra shot, but the general population didn't need one.

And they emphasized a basic point medical professionals have made for months: vaccines "are preventing severe disease, they are preventing hospitalizations and they are preventing death," said Dr. Uzma Syed, infectious disease specialist, Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center. "If you are fully vaccinated, you have really good protection right now."

People anticipating a booster should not mix vaccines, said Dr. Syed and Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of the Northwell Health COVID-19 vaccination program. As with the initial shots, boosters may cause mild discomfort but allergic reactions are extremely rare, they said.

From a public health standpoint, however, experts say the most effective strategy is to vaccinate people who have not yet gotten their primary dose, they said.

With Robert Brodsky, Nicholas Spangler and AP

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