Mayor Brandon Scott, left, is pictured getting his vaccine shot in March. Mayor Scott announced that effective Oct. 18, all city employees will have to report their vaccination status or submit to weekly COVID testing. (Photo by Mark Dennis)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

In the best interests of its employees and in accordance with public health guidance, the City of Baltimore will be implementing new coronavirus vaccine protocols.

Effective Oct. 18, the city will require that all of its employees must either: (1) report their vaccination status to the city; and (2) be fully vaccinated and report that vaccination status to the City; or (3) submit to weekly testing for COVID-19, the Mayor’s Office announced.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Maryland Department of Health, and the Baltimore City Health Department, COVID-19 continues to pose a risk, especially to individuals who are not fully vaccinated, and certain safety measures remain necessary to protect against COVID-19 cases and deaths,” according to a statement released by the Mayor’s Office.

“Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent transmission and limit COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.”

The new measure will apply to anyone employed by the City of Baltimore on a probationary, contractual, seasonal, part-time and temporary basis, including sworn personnel employed by the fire and the police departments.

The adverse effects that the coronavirus has had on Black Americans are well-documented. Baltimore is one of the few major cities in the U.S. that is predominately Black, from its residents, to city leaders, to the city government workforce, highlighting why those leading the charge in the battle against COVID-19 have fought tirelessly for vaccine access, particularly for marginalized communities. 

Baltimore’s government workforce demographically looks “a little different” than some of its partner jurisdictions, Chris Shorter, Baltimore’s first-ever city administrator, admitted.

“The Baltimore City workforce is a unique workforce, and makes it that much more important that we get our workforce vaccinated and provide a safe environment for them and our residents we serve,” Shorter said.

As city administrator, Shorter holds supervisory power over all agencies, including the police, and all department heads and employees while overseeing the annual budget. He acknowledged the diligence of Mayor Brandon Scott.

“The mayor has been a big champion for our city and our residents getting vaccinated, and we want our government and the employees that make up our government to do the same,” Shorter said. “We believe this is in line with that mandate.”

Shorter, formerly an assistant city manager in Austin, Texas, said he and his colleagues in city government are “keeping our options open in terms of ways that we can incentivize employees to get their vaccinations.”

The city has not yet finalized an incentive, but there has been much consideration and discussion on the topic. 

“No final number has been released and certainly we haven’t even internally landed on final approval on an incentive program,” Shorter said, also confirming that employees will only be required to submit their COVID-19 vaccination status only, as opposed to yielding documentation for other vaccines received.

The efforts of Chief Equity Officer Dana Moore, in addition with her colleagues and other city leaders, have led to increased vaccine accessibility. Before taking the reins as chief equity officer, Moore served as city solicitor under former Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young.

“The African-American community has been hit pretty hard, as have our Latinx community, and both populations are represented pretty well in city government,” Moore said.

“The easiest route is to get vaccinated, and my hope is that our brothers and sisters will understand that is efficacious, very low-risk and a positive step in the right direction.”

As aforementioned, the new standard operating procedure does not make vaccinations absolutely mandatory. Unvaccinated city employees have the option of either getting vaccinated or getting tested for the coronavirus and submitting the results to their respective agencies’ human resources departments on a weekly basis. 

According to the Mayor’s Office, city employees must report their vaccination status into the Workday management system using the self-service portal. 

The vaccination protocol also stipulates that “employees with a medical condition or other medical restriction that affects their eligibility for a vaccine, as verified by their medical provider, or those with a sincerely held religious belief that prohibits them from receiving a vaccine, may request a reasonable accommodation to be excused from this vaccination and/or testing requirement.”

Moore added that the progress in vaccine accessibility has given the city government the capacity to be able to administer the new measure.

“We’re able to do it because the vaccines are available and everything else that goes along with this is accessible, and that’s truly important,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter your gender, your age, your race, your level of income. If you want the vaccination you should get it. I’m very glad that Mayor Scott has made this decision.”

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