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Mayor Scott Announces Vaccine Mandate For Baltimore City Employees, Effective Oct. 18

As the U.S. races to vaccinate its population, the development of better COVID-19 vaccines has already begun.
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Vials containing COVID-19 vaccines. Mayor Brandon Scott has announced a vaccine mandate for city workers. Those who opt out must receive testing for the virus every week.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced Tuesday a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Baltimore City employees effective Oct. 18. Employees who choose not to be vaccinated or who have medical or religious exemptions must be tested for the virus every week.

City Administrator Chris Shorter, who will oversee the program’s rollout, told WYPR that the city’s priority is providing a safe environment for the men and women who serve it.

“And in these times, what that means is making sure that we are allowing our employees to come into an environment where their colleagues are vaccinated,” he said.

Senior members of the Scott administration first publicly discussed the mandate at an Aug. 18 city hearing, where Interim Director & Chief Human Capital Officer Quinton Herbert said the vaccination rate of city employees mirrors that of the general city population. As of Tuesday morning, 59.2% of Baltimoreans 18 and older are fully vaccinated while another 66.4% have received at least one dose.

Shorter said the Scott administration, particularly Solicitor Jim Shea and other law department employees, has closely studied similar mandates in other local jurisdictions and worked closely with labor leaders. The main hurdle was making the program operational, he said.

Employees must report their vaccination status by uploading proof, such as a copy of a CDC vaccination record card or note from a healthcare provider, to the city’s HR portal.

They must note the type of vaccine obtained, the date of first dose, the date of second dose of vaccine for a two-dose vaccine, the date of required boosters, and declare under penalty of perjury that they have been fully vaccinated.

A first wave of city employees who have worked remotely since the pandemic hit returned to their workplaces earlier this month; they provide priority in-person services, such as customer service at bill-paying windows at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building.

A second phase of city workers are due to return Oct. 24, shortly after the vaccine mandate takes place. Full in-person services are not scheduled to be restored until next year.

City Hall will operate 21 testing centers throughout Baltimore for unvaccinated city employees. Some centers will be in government buildings and work sites.

“We know that our workforce needs us to meet them where they are,” Shorter said. “And so we'll have sites specifically designated to do just that.”

Chief Equity Officer Dana Moore said the testing locations were also developed with historical incidences of COVID-19 cases in mind.

“One of the agencies that has been most affected by the pandemic, by COVID is DPW,” she said. “So they will be testing sites near DPW sites. But the fact that we've got 21, that they're spread around the city, means that hopefully no one who opts to be tested...will have to go far from their home or their job to meet that obligation.”

Moore and Shorter said the city will continue its efforts to vaccinate employees and answer their questions about the shots ahead of the program’s start date. Baltimore has operated vaccine clinics specifically for city employees.

Moore called the mandate “an equity decision.” The pandemic has taken “deep and horrible advantage of Black and brown people,” whose populations have seen more deaths and case counts than white populations. About 42.5% of city employees are Black or African American, according to city data.

“We've done everything we could to create every opportunity for all of us to make the right decision,” she said. “And now we're at a point where we've run out of the small options and we have to get more intense and more serious. … By imposing this mandate, we've done everything that we can.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.