Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday signed an executive order that will require state employees, preK-12 teachers and early childhood workers who don’t qualify for a medical or religious exemption to be vaccinated for COVID-19, beginning Sept. 27.
This latest order comes on the heels of another order requiring nursing home workers to get vaccinated with at least one dose by Sept. 7.
“Look, I’m not eager to do this. I’m doing everything we can to keep us safe,” he said during a briefing. “Connecticut has really done very well ... We have over 80% of our adults vaccinated. Let’s build on that. That’s what makes a difference.”
It’s unclear how many state employees, teachers and child care workers remain unvaccinated in Connecticut. According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 72.2% of the state’s population has received at least one dose, while nearly 65% have completed their vaccination. However, the state continues to report an increasing number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, driven mostly by the Delta variant.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which includes leaders of the state employees unions, said in a statement that some state employees who have not received at least their first dose of the vaccine, and don’t qualify for an exemption, will be able to continue to work in a state-owned or operated property only by undergoing a weekly COVID-19 test.
The test option, however, will not be available to employees at state hospitals and long-term care employees unless those workers qualify for an exemption. The executive order applies to people who work at state agencies but doesn’t include court or legislative employees. However, SEBAC said the same rules will apply to unionized Judicial Branch employees.
“Courts have upheld employer rights to mandate vaccination,” SEBAC said in a statement. The state of Connecticut is required to negotiate with their employees’ unions over the details and impacts of the EO and the Lamont Administration has acknowledged its obligation to do so.”
Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said those unvaccinated state employees who ultimately refuse to be tested will not be permitted inside their state workplaces and will be subject to discipline, determined by their contracts and the upcoming negotiations between the administration and the unions. Geballe said teachers and the child care workers will face a similar scenario.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, questioned whether Lamont’s order is necessary.
“My gut says no. I just know from my own communities and the number of teachers that I’m friends with, they were relieved to get the vaccines back in December,” he said, speculating the state employee unions might be using the situation as a bargaining chip for contract negotiations.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, voiced support for Lamont’s order.
“We appreciate the governor’s effort to ensure the safety of all by having as many vaccinated people in our schools as possible. In traveling to school districts and listening to local teachers, we’ve heard concerns from many who favor a vaccine mandate, and others who want the ability for monitored exceptions,” CEA President Kate Dias said in a written statement.
The order applies to both public and private school teachers, Lamont said.
In other coronavirus-related news:
Lamont on Thursday signed a second executive order that allows patients, their doctors, and local health directors to access digital records related to a patient’s individual COVID-19 vaccination history from Connecticut’s immunization information system.
The governor said the order means patients and their providers will be able to better keep track of their COVID-19 vaccination history and more easily obtain proof of vaccination when needed. At least 37 states have a similar process in place.
“Without this order, patients will continue to be frustrated that they are blocked from accessing their own vaccination records, and doctors and healthcare providers will be unable to easily lookup when and with what vaccine their patients were administered a COVID-19 vaccine,” Lamont said in a statement.
Connecticut had 23 deaths linked to COVID-19 over the past week, bringing the state’s total during the pandemic to 8,330.
“It’s a sad number, but it’s worth noting that we have just about the lowest fatalities per capita in the country,” Lamont said.
There were 534 new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, bringing the total in the state during the pandemic to 365,425. Of those, 5,857 were so-called “breakthrough cases” diagnosed in people who are fully vaccinated, which represents 0.28% of all vaccinated residents, health officials said.
Lamont’s office said there are 344 people currently hospitalized with the virus, a decrease of four from Wednesday.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 163.3, an increase of 35.8%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. Meanwhile, state Department of Public Health officials said there are now 73 municipalities where the number of cases exceeds 15 per 100,000 people.
That puts those towns in the “red zone” where the state recommends such actions as canceling all events with non-family members, limiting trips outside the homes, and wearing masks even at outdoor gatherings.