Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a top Democrat in the Connecticut General Assembly, is calling for all state and municipal employees, including teachers, professors and police officers, to be required to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Refusing to get vaccinated is not a right under public workers' union contracts, Duff said.
“There’s no bargaining in my opinion," he told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has said he’s willing to consider requiring state employees to get vaccinated or possibly face weekly testing, saying it’s an issue he wants to discuss with state employee union representatives and the General Assembly.
Max Reiss, Lamont's communications director, said Wednesday the governor “will continue to use the tools in his toolbox to get as many people vaccinated as possible." Reiss acknowledged the administration has had conversations with the union leaders regarding the need for state employees to get their shots.
One state, California, has already said it will require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, under a new policy announced Wednesday. It is the first state to do so. Meanwhile, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced last week that all county and state workers, including from the Department of Education, would be required to disclose their vaccination status or face weekly testing. California’s order is considered far more sweeping, applying to all staff who work in both public and private schools.
“It’s really important for us to continue to beat the drum of people getting their vaccines, to continue to educate folks, but also have a firm hand and say, ‘Yes, we need to mandate these vaccinations,’” Duff said. “Because without that, it continues to put our state and country in harm’s way.”
Duff, who lives in Norwalk, said he also believes day care staff and all health care workers should be required to be vaccinated while medical offices should disclose whether their staff members have gotten their shots.
Last week, Lamont directed an executive order, which was signed by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, that requires all employees of long-term care facilities to receive at least the first dose of a vaccine by Sept. 7.
Duff said it “remains to be seen” whether state lawmakers would need to extend the governor's current emergency powers beyond Sept. 30 in order for him to require more people to get vaccinated.
He expressed frustration that requiring vaccinations might be necessary.
“A lot of us didn't think we'd have to mandate it. Who would think that we would even have to go down this road?” he said. "People who have done the right things and have been vaccinated, they now have to put their freedoms on hold and now have to put their way of life on hold."
In other coronavirus-related news:
Students who attended one of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic are receiving some financial help in hopes of encouraging them to continue their studies.
Under the Student Support Program, funded with $58 million in federal COVID relief money, checks of $100 or $350, depending on financial need, will be sent this week to help pay for a student's cost of attending school or other expenses, such as tuition, housing, food, health care or child care. The Connecticut State Colleges and University System expects to release additional payments in October and December 2021 and in spring 2022.
Students without legal status are also eligible for the funds. Also, the four state universities are providing similar direct support to students.
Last month, CSCU President Terrence Cheng announced $17 million in debt that Connecticut community college students took on or could not repay because of the pandemic will be forgiven.
New London County has become the third in Connecticut to be designated as a high coronavirus transmission area by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC increased the county's designation from substantial to high on Tuesday, putting it at the same level as Hartford and New Haven counties. High transmission means there were 100 or more new virus cases per 100,000 residents, or a positive test rate of 10% or more, over a seven-day period.
New London County had about 101 new cases per 100,000 residents from Aug. 3 to 9, a nearly 26% increase from the previous week. The positive test rate was about 3.5%.
Hartford County had about 118 new cases per 100,000 people from Aug. 3 to 9, while New Haven County had about 124 new cases per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC. The state's five other counties have substantial virus transmission rates.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 237.4, an increase of 91.7%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. As of Wednesday, state officials report there were 230 people hospitalized for COVID-19, an increase of 11 since Tuesday. It's the highest total since mid-May.