Mayor Baraka: Our cops, firefighters must be vaccinated to protect the public | Opinion

Published: Aug. 28, 2021

By Ras Baraka

The mayor of Newark says it goes without saying that much of city government explicitly exists for the sole purpose of keeping our residents safe, which is why it is confounding to me that we are getting push back from certain public employee unions about our mandate that all city employees get COVID-19 vaccinations.

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In my duties as mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, there are days I come in contact with dozens and at times, hundreds of people. The other day I met with a multi-generational range of Newark residents, from seniors to children, and I can only feel comfortable with this – for myself and them – because I am vaccinated. Later, I found out I had come in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID and I thought about the potential “superspreader” consequences if I had been infected. I got tested, as did my immediate staff, and luckily we all came up negative.

Besides myself, there are other people in my administration and the city’s workforce who come in constant contact with the public, either in the office or in the field. People who come into city hall for permits, to pay taxes, apply to licensing and a whole myriad of other reasons, will continue to be met by masked employees and they should be confident their public servants have been vaccinated and they will not leave city hall infected.

Our health inspectors go into restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and other food establishments to make sure cleanliness standards are met to keep people from getting sick.

Our code officers check apartment houses and other existing residential and commercial buildings, and those under construction, to make sure things like electric and gas service lines meet safety standards.

The police and fire division personnel of our Public Safety Department are routinely in contact with members of the public in either emergency situations or while making routine rounds.

It goes without saying that much of city government explicitly exists for the sole purpose of keeping our residents safe, which is why it is confounding to me that we are getting push back from certain public employee unions about our mandate that all city employees get COVID-19 vaccinations unless they are religiously forbidden or medically unqualified. Employees who choose not to be vaccinated must submit to PCR testing on their own time and provide test results each week or face disciplinary penalties, including termination.

My executive order signed two weeks ago is in step with Gov. Phil Murphy’s edict that all public school teachers and state employees get vaccinated or subject themselves to testing unless they opt out for religious or medical reasons.

On a larger scale, the U.S. military has ordered all personnel to be vaccinated in the interest of national security.

Recent headlines called my executive order “controversial,” and one union leader was quoted as saying it was “heavy-handed.”

These characterizations skirt the hard, tragic facts that 1,027 Newark residents have died from this disease, and we have had 39,553 people get sick. Some became very seriously ill and must live with the respiratory ravages caused by the disease.

This is not behind us as we have had 80 new cases and two deaths in the last few days, as the more contagious Delta variant makes inroads around the world.

We must avoid a tragic repeat of the COVID-19′s first appearance in our city and state. That, to me, seems to be a matter of common sense, and vaccinations give everyone a chance to participate in the common good, to uphold their civic responsibility to keep everyone safe. Newark residents apparently understand this, as 60% of all people over 12 are vaccinated. When you only count adults, the number climbs higher. Our people disproportionately bore the brunt of heartbreaking loss the last time around and don’t want to experience it again.

Our public servants should be more invested in community safety first because it is their job, and second, the public trust they hold demands they be held to high a standard.

Unfortunately, while the COVID-19 vaccines have proven safe and effective in controlling the severity of the disease, they have become politicized in our country today and misinformation is spread to fit certain agendas.

But government ordering vaccines is far from unprecedented. Mandatory smallpox vaccines for police and firefighters during a national outbreak were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1904, and smallpox is the first disease eradicated by vaccines in human history.

Polio vaccines are mandated by every state in the country for children entering public schools, which has all but eradicated the disease.

The ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 is now in our hands. It would be irresponsible of me and not in the best interest of public safety to not order all city employees to be vaccinated.

Of all people, the union leaders whose rank-and-file members are hired and sworn to protect the public should know this better than anybody. They lost nine members to the disease. Not only that, but public safety is their job. My executive order demands that they do it.

Ras Baraka is the mayor of the city of Newark.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-29 02:17:13 -0700