Select Board Approves Vaccine Mandate For Belmont Town Workers

Photo: Vaccination is a requirement for town employees

The Belmont Select Board voted unanimously Monday night, Oct. 18 to mandate all town employees to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

But the requirement will likely take at least a month, if not longer, before it goes into effect as the town must complete impact bargaining with the seven labor unions representing the 300 full- and part-time municipal employees. During those talks, it will be determined what administration action will be taken against workers who remain unvaccinated.

“This is a public health emergency,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash before the vote. “I think [the board] need[s] to stand strong and do the right thing.”

“The goal here is for people to get vaccinated and stay employed. They’ve sacrificed quite a lot in their lives to [be in public service] and this is one of those things for the greater good,” Dash said.

The town mandate comes after the Belmont School Committee approved an agreement on Sept. 10 with the Belmont Education Association to require teachers and school staff to be vaccinated.

Spurring the board’s vote was the lastest data on Covid-19 infection rates in Belmont. Data (see at the bottom of the article) compiled by Public Heath Agent Lindsey Sharp showed higher 2021 infection rates than in the same month in 2020. For instance, while there were 11 new cases in August 2020, Belmont recorded 96 in 2021. And since June of this year, Belmont has seen 233 new cases, with nearly half being breakthrough cases occurring to residents who are fully vaccinated.

Sharp said the surge in the past few months are likely related to the highly virulent delta variant of the virus and the reopening of schools and businesses during the summer and fall. “There’s just more people out and about doing activities, traveling,” said Sharp.

In a voluntary survey of employees conducted by the town’s Human Resources Director Shawna Healey, a little more than a third participated of whom all said they have received at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. The town’s Labor Counsel Brian Maser told the board it could require the other employees to provide their vaccination status by exercising its managerial prerogative as part of a vaccination mandate.

But even if the board went that route, “what does that get us?” said the Board’s Mark Paolillo. If, for example, 80 percent of employees are vaccinated, “what do we do with the other 20 percent?”

“I hate to mandate anything but these employees work for the town and we have to consider the safety of our residents,” said Paolillo. Saying there has been “chatter” on Facebook that the board is seeking to control worker’s lives, Paolillo “we’re just trying to protect the public.”

Vice chair Roy Epstein suggested a possible two track approach used at health sites such as the Boston Medical Center in which unvaccinated employees are required to be tested once or twice a week if they choose not to comply with notification requirements or outright refusal. But Paolillo countered that while religious or medical exemptions can be part of the measure, the board needed to take a strong stance on vaccinations.

“I just don’t think halfway [measures] helps anything. It’s either fully mandate or you don’t,” said Paolillo who backed Dash’s amendment.

The most notable of public comment came from resident Joseph Kelly who has questioned the vaccine mandates in Belmont at other venues, saying “there are a lot of things, short term and long term, that we don’t understand yet“ about the Covid vaccine, citing side effects to young recipients and a myriad of other issues. He also noted what he called the “Nuremberg Code” that he said that a person cannot be forced or coerced to be part of this “medical experiment” which, if the employee mandate is passed, would result in a person losing their job.

[Editor’s note: USA Today has produced a fact sheet on the Nuremberg Code and the misinterpretation of its main tenet.]

One area the board expressed concern was what to do with employees who flatly refuse taking the vaccine after an agreement is approved. While not wanting to fire an employee, Maser told the board it can follow the state’s mandate for its executive branch employees. Those who do not comply by a specific date would be placed “on leave” status when they would be required to use their accrued benefits charge, basically their holiday and other time off. When that is expired, those employees are not meeting the condition of employment and faces progressive discipline and ultimately termination.

Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said the practical issue facing the town is negotiating with seven unions who will could have different demands or requirements before signing an agreement with the town. Maser advised the board not to set a date certain that is at least four weeks from the vote for the mandate to take effect. It was agreed that after informing the unions of the vote on Tuesday, the board will meet in executive session next week with Garvin, Healy and Maser to discuss strategy relative to what the town’s proposal to bring to the bargaining table.

All Student COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at Chenery Middle School, Thursday, Sept. 30

Photo: Shots for students this Thursday. (Image credit: CDC “Getting Your COVID-19 Vaccine”)

The Belmont School District in partnership with VaxinateRx and Healthcare Family Pharmacy is offering two doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination series to all Belmont public school students ages 12 and up on Thursday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Chenery Middle School large community room.

According to Beth Rumley, director of nursing for the Belmont Public Schools, all students will be vaccinated free of charge regardless of insurance coverage. If insured please enter insurance information in the online registration. Once registered online there is no need to bring an insurance card to the clinic. 

A follow-up clinic for second doses will be held on Thursday, October 21, 2021, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Chenery large community room. An additional registration link will be provided to register for the second dose at a later time. Students who have already received their first dose of the Pfizer series at another location are welcome to register for either date to receive their second shot as long as there have been at least 3 weeks between doses. Please remember to send the vaccination card from the previous vaccination and consent form with your student.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW

  • Please register your child to receive the vaccine at: Appointment Quest Scheduler
  • After registering you will receive an email with a link to the consent form for vaccination (please check your spam folder if you do not receive it)
  • Please fill out and print the consent form to bring to the appointment
  • For anyone under the age of 18, a consent form signed by a parent/guardian must be presented in order to receive a vaccine
    • Parent/guardian does not need to be present as long as the child has a signed consent form

If you experience any issues with the registration process please email info@VaxinateRx.com  to resolve any issues.

Reminder: Please make sure to print and sign the consent form and have the student bring it to school on the day of the clinic. A Parent or Guardian signature is required for any students under the age of 18.  

Your child will receive a COVID vaccine card at the time of vaccination. PLEASE KEEP THIS CARD IN A SAFE PLACE. Your child will need it for the second dose.

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Needs Common Sense Policy On Student Covid Vaccination Mandate

Photo: The author believes Belmont should adopt a common sense approach to student vaccinations

To the editor:

In the last year and a half, I’ve made it a point to call my elderly Aunt Helen every week. Our conversations touch on a wide range of topics: politics, stories about my parents I’d never heard before, and regular family updates. Lately, Helen has shared stories that are more personal: experiences with her mentally ill father and her unfaithful husband whom she divorced, and sexual harassment and gender discrimination as a working single mom. Recently, I asked her, “How did you manage to get through all of that?”  Helen laughed and said, “I just thought of the story about the little engine that could and I told myself, I can, I must, I will.”  

Belmont needs a little of my Aunt Helen’s can-do attitude right about now. For the third school year in a row, we’ve struggled to maintain focus on where we want to be in the future and how to get there from a policy perspective. To be fair, the national political and scientific landscape is complex, dynamic, and divisive, and “guidance” from the state has been slow to come and sometimes unhelpful. As a consequence, our small town has become torn about the best ways to keep everyone safe and to return to a “normal life” whatever that means going forward.

We can and must do better. For starters, as it did with the universal indoor mask mandate, the Board of Health should follow the advice of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics by enacting a policy that mandates vaccinations against COVID-19 among all BPS students who are approved for vaccines by the FDA, presently 16 and older. Based on recent data provided by Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, student vaccinations seem to be stuck at the 80 percent mark, which means that hundreds of students who are eligible for vaccines have not yet gotten them. This represents a significant risk to public health and must be addressed.  

A vaccine mandate for students who are 16 and older will not ensure that all age-eligible students will get vaccinated, but it will send a powerful message to students and families that vaccines are normal and expected for participation in the Belmont Public Schools for all age groups once the FDA determines that the vaccine is safe. The policy can be written in such a way that families will know that they need to prioritize getting their children vaccinated as soon as their age brackets are approved under Emergency Use Authorization because, eventually, all age brackets will be approved by the FDA. This kind of policy will make it unnecessary for the School Committee to make vaccine policy in an ad hoc way every time a new age group gets approved, leaving time to discuss other essential business, such as academic achievement and the social-emotional wellbeing of our students, both of which have suffered in the last two years. 

A vaccine mandate, especially if the policy is enacted with a deadline before Thanksgiving, will not only make schools safer for students and their families by reducing the number of students who will become seriously infected as we head into the winter, it will also be a sign of good faith to our school nurses, the members of the Belmont teachers’ union, and other bargaining units who have agreed to mandatory vaccines that the community cares about their workplace safety.  

More than anything, by using its authority to enact this policy, the Belmont Board of Health will help us take a step in the direction of a future we all want for our children and ourselves, a world in which our children can play and attend school largely without masks and without dread of serious illness and death. As a small town with a strong commitment to local governance, we don’t need to wait for the Massachusetts Legislature, which we heard recently from State Senator Will Brownsberger will defer to the state’s Department of Public Health, to issue this common-sense policy. We can and we must take this important step ourselves to protect our community.   

Jeff Liberty

Worcester Street

Schools, Teachers Union OK Covid-19 Vaccination Mandate For All Staff

Photo: Mandated COVID vaccinations for all BEA members to begin soon

The Belmont School Committee and the Belmont Education Association (BEA) agreed to mandate COVID vaccinations for all BEA members in district schools for the 2021-2022 academic year, according to a press release from Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

This agreement, voted on and ratified by the School Committee and the BEA on Thursday, Sept. 10, “is an important step to ensure a healthy school environment along with all the other mitigation strategies in place such as masking, pool testing, and test and stay programming,” said Phelan. The agreement comes as the federal government is moving forward with its own vaccination mandate for business with more than 100 employees and for all federal government employees.

The new vaccine requirement comes as the rate of Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks ending Sept. 10 has decreased for the first time since early July, according to the Belmont Board of Health. The average daily incidence rate per 100,000 people fell to 9.4 percent from 13.3 percent between Sept. 3 to Sept. 10, although the actual number of cases over that period jumped from 18 to 23 positive cases.

Tentative Agreement On Vaccine Mandate For Belmont Teachers/Staff

Photo: Belmont teachers and staff will be required to be vaccinated if a tentative agreement is approved.

In a joint press release issued Friday afternoon, Sept. 3, representatives of the Belmont School Committee and the local teachers’ union, the Belmont Educators Association, tentatively agreed to mandated vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus for educators and staff working in Belmont’s six public schools.

The agreement, passed on Thursday, Sept. 2, will now go before the full BEA membership and the six member School Committee to be voted on and ratified.

The Belmont School District will also begin the school year with a mask mandate for students and staff.

The provisional deal comes as school’s open in Belmont on Wednesday, Sept. 8, in the midst of a significant surge of the virus due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant. Elementary and younger middle school students who can not be vaccinated due to their age are seen as susceptible to either catching or carrying the virus.

The press release also announced the second of” two important health mitigation strategies that will support a safe opening of school” as the Belmont Public Schools is partnering with Cambridge Innovation Center to implement a Routine COVID Safety Checks – formerly known as Routine COVID Pooled Testing – and a “Test and Stay” close contact testing protocol.

Routine COVID safety checks is when shallow nasal swab samples are collected at school and put into a single tube. If a group tests positive, individual follow-up testing with a second sample collection occurs at the school with BinaxNOW and/or individual PCR testing, as necessary.

Test and stay protocol is for students and staff who may have been exposed to COVID-19 while in school. Test and Stay allows students and staff who were exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 at school to remain in school as long as they have no symptoms. Instead of missing school, these students and staff will be administered a daily BinaxNOW rapid test at school. They will continue to quarantine outside of the school day. Students and staff participate in Test and Stay for a minimum of five days after they may have been exposed. 

A health bulletin from the school district’s nursing staff with more information on pool testing, test and stay, testing consent forms, etc., with links to the new symptom checker will be sent to you early next week, Sept. 12.

COVID Update: After Quiet Summer, Uptick This Week Of COVID Cases In Belmont

Photo: The number of positive cases has increased over the past week in Belmont

After a quiet past two months, Belmont has seen a slight uptick in positive COVID cases during the week, following the increase of new coronavirus cases in every state due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

After four weeks that saw a single new case, Belmont recorded five new cases in the week end July 16, according to information from the Belmont Department of Health.

But unlike some parts of the country where infection rates have increased by double digits, Belmont’s increase is lower than 1 percent of the average daily incidence rate per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks.

Belmont’s low infection rate compared other parts of the country is directly in line with the higher rate of residents who have been vaccinated. As of July 16, 19,044 Belmontians are full vaccinated making up 69 percent of the population. That is more than the rate for Massachusetts (62 percent) and the US (50 percent). The age group in town most fully vaccinated are those between 50-64 with 88 percent having received both shots.

‘Good Chance’ Belmont Will Have A Role In COVID Vaccine Distribution

Photo: Vaccinations are underway for COVID-19. (Wiki Commons)

With the need to provide approximately 600 million doses (two per person) of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US, it’s likely that Belmont’s health infrastructure will be part of that massive effort in 2021.

“There’s a good chance we will play a role in the local distribution [of the vaccine],” said Wesley Chin, director of Belmont’s Health Department when he spoke to the Select Board on Monday, Dec. 7.

Chin said the state has informed cities and towns the vaccination protocol will have three stages with local boards of health involved in the final phase which is be focused on jabbing the general public.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state’s first shipment of approximately 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered on Tuesday, Dec. 15 going directly to 21 hospitals across the state.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Baker announced the state’s distribution plan, saying the first phase of 300,000 doses will be distributed in mid-December through mid-February to health care workers, those employed in long term care facilities, first responders and people working in congregate care settings.

The second round of nearly two million vaccinations will take place starting in mid-February and lasting through mid-April. That supply will go to those individuals with two or more comorbidities – high risk for COVID-19 complications – a group including teachers, transit personnel, grocery and food workers and public work employees, and those over 65.

Beginning in mid-April, the vaccine will be available to the general public.