Vaccine mandates take effect for city employees, CT K-12 staff
A potentially tumultuous day across the state ended up going relatively smoothly, state officials reported on Monday.
Regina Sung, Photo Editor
Over 74 percent of New Haven city employees who reported vaccination status were fully vaccinated on Monday — the deadline for them to either present proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing. But another vaccination mandate on the state level has gone less smoothly, and officials spent last week worrying that hundreds of school bus drivers across the state might not show up to work over it.
Monday was the vaccination deadline for all Connecticut state employees, including those employed by schools, and separate mandates were announced at the local and state level. Last week, the Connecticut School Transportation Association expressed fear that over 200 school bus drivers would refuse to work on Monday because of the mandate, leaving students with no way to travel to school. A number of unvaccinated bus drivers — with no-shows occurring in Derby, North Haven, Southbury and Middlebury — said that they would strike over the new requirement. Parents were advised by superintendents to take their children to school if they were able, and bus drivers not on strike were told they might have to pick up more students than usual.
But concerns fizzled Monday morning, and according to COSTA officials, “there were very few disruptions in getting kids to school.”
“Thanks to the committed school bus drivers and managers for promptly following the Governor’s mandate for COVID vaccinations and testing, while at the same time, doing what needed to be done to get Connecticut’s children safely to school,” COSTA vice president Jon Hipsher wrote in a Monday morning press release.
New Haven Public Schools, however, did not expect there to be much resistance among its own drivers. Justin Harmon, director of marketing and communications for NHPS, explained that New Haven’s transportation service, First Student, told school officials a few weeks ago that their company would not be targeted by the strike. Most drivers in New Haven and across the state eventually decided to come to work, he said. “We were watchful, but not surprised when drivers showed up and drop-off went smoothly,” Harmon said.
Concerns about bus drivers came at a time when there is already a shortage of drivers in Connecticut and nationwide. This is a consequence of both COVID-19 anxiety among drivers as well as mass layoffs by bus companies earlier in the pandemic and the accompanying futile attempts to bring drivers back. But in the Monday morning release COSTA officials wrote that “the other bright spot in all of this is that there has been an uptick in school bus driver applications.”
According to city spokesperson Kyle Buda, while 74 percent of New Haven employees registered full vaccination statuses, 94 percent of New Haven employees have registered their status overall. Amounting to 1,331 workers, four percent are partially vaccinated, one percent are planning to receive the vaccine and 21 percent have decided to opt into weekly testing, Buda shared in a Monday afternoon email to the News. Numbers are not yet known for the remaining six percent of unregistered employees.
“Employees are required to register in our system and select vaccinated, testing or scheduled to vaccinate,” Buda wrote. “Unregistered means that they haven’t registered in our internal tracking system yet.”
As the city adjusts to the mandate, Harmon said he does not expect many future problems to arise among NHPS employees in regard to the vaccine requirement.
“It’s a big undertaking to get everyone through the process of vaccination and uploading vaccine information, but our compliance has been quite good,” he said.
The key, according to Harmon, has been reinforcing the idea that employees have a responsibility to their students and that the policy comes from the state rather than the district itself. When working with contractors like First Student, Harmon acknowledged that the district may need to work harder to enforce the mandate, but he said “[the district has] been lucky thus far” with its partnerships.
The testing compliance deadline for the city is midnight on Thursday.