In all, 43 of the state’s 50 state agencies reported at least a 75% compliance rate, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Dec. 13. He did not name the agencies below that number, what their individual compliance rates were and how many workers in total were non-compliant,
“It’s a good start with state workers,” Murphy said. “The results are a starting place, not where we will end up. Yes it’s a good start and it’s going to get better, it needs to get better.”
The vaccine requirement was rolled out in the late summer, as the highly contagious delta variant drove up case numbers almost exclusively among those who have not gotten the shot.
Despite the emergence of the omicron variant in recent weeks, state health officials and the governor stressed that the delta variant remains the dominant strain in New Jersey. Early data suggest that omicron can more easily spread among those who have been inoculated, but appears as a much more mild form.
That reality means New Jerseyans should, according to the governor, get the vaccine, the booster when appropriate and wear masks indoors in settings where not everyone might be vaccinated.
“We know there are also a significant number of public employees who have received their first vaccine doses, and others who remain unvaccinated are submitting to regular testing as required,” the governor added on Monday.
The governor ordered all of New Jersey’s 68,000 state workers and employees at K-12 schools and New Jersey’s public colleges and universities to get the vaccine or submit to weekly testing.
A separate order Murphy signed in October requires new state contracts to include a clause mandating the vaccine or weekly testing, but did not affect current state contracts.
The vaccination rates were key to phasing in state workers’ return to their offices, Murphy said.
Murphy had been asked several times since the Oct. 18 deadline about how many workers were vaccinated, but said he did not have that information until nearly two months later.
“Some offices are just ramping up their reporting now, and we continue to work with them to refine their reported data,” the governor said. “We are also working closely with agencies and unions whose numbers are below this average in ways to get more of their employees vaccinated.”
State officials are coordinating with the lagging agencies and providing guidance and the means to work with local health departments, the governor said. “To be sure, any employee who identified as noncompliant is subject to disciplinary actions,” Murphy warned.
He did not have any data on how many state employees have been disciplined. A senior attorney for Murphy’s office said at a regular COVID-19 briefing that discipline could include suspension without pay, or termination.
Cases and total hospitalizations are increasing as people gather for the holidays, and spend more time indoors amid colder weather. In response, New York is requiring indoor businesses to demand proof of vaccination or masking; Philadelphia is also introducing a vaccine requirement for many indoor businesses. Murphy said the Garden State is still not at that point, but did not elaborate.
“The overwhelming numbers of these new cases are among the unvaccinated, as all the past breakthrough data from the past weeks and months bears out,” he said. “But we cannot overlook that there are more cases being identified among those who did complete their primary vaccine course – a course that may be begin to be waning. This is why everyone who was vaccinated earlier this year now needs to step up for their boosters.”
A third vaccine mega-site is being opened on Dec. 15 – this one at the former Lord & Taylor store at the Bridgewater Commons mall in Somerset County, to meet the potential demand.
So far, only the mega-sites in Burlington and Gloucester counties remain open, of the six that had been operating across the state.
More than 6.3 million New Jerseyans out of a total population of 9.2 million residents are fully vaccinated, while more than 1.69 million people in the state have gotten their third dose or booster shot. The state worker requirement does not extend to boosters, Murphy said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]