HARRISBURG (AP) – The union, which represents about 10,000 guards in Pennsylvania state prisons, told Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday that it was planning legal action to stop his efforts to force them to fight COVID-19 next month. Get vaccines.
The president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association sent a letter to the Democratic governor two days after Wolf ordered the guards and several other state employees to undergo full vaccinations or weekly tests by September 7.
Union president John Eckenrode told Wolf his political announcement was “A slap in the face – and to be honest, far too late, because thousands of our members have already become infected due to your inaction.”
“This is the latest episode of a deplorably inconsistent vaccination / testing / masking policy by this government in our state prisons.” Eckenrode wrote and added the union “Has directed a lawyer to challenge this latest proposed policy change.”
Wolf’s press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger said Thursday the initiative was designed to protect the guards, their families and the people they work with.
“The union exists to protect and support the workers it represents, so the correctional union’s opposition to this initiative to contain the spread of COVID-19 is extremely disappointing.” said Kensinger.
On the prison system’s website, around 4,800 of the prison system’s 12,000+ employees are infected with the coronavirus, and the union says nearly 3,700 of its members have been infected with COVID-19. According to the department, around 3,600 prison staff are currently fully vaccinated.
Eckenrode told Wolf that the test plan won’t make people safer because it doesn’t extend to the inmates’ family members, contractors, vendors and volunteers.
“As for the mask, our members have to wear it, but the inmates don’t.” Eckenrode said and argued that the masking policy does not make places where people gather in prisons safer.
Wolf announced the vaccination policy on Tuesday, which will cover approximately 25,000 employees in state prisons and state health and community care facilities. It applies to prisons as well as government hospitals, veterans’ homes, community health centers and homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Thursday:
Vaccines for nursing home workers
Nursing home workers who are not vaccinated could face more frequent tests, according to a new policy from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The Ministry of Health said that at least 80% of staff in the state’s more than 700 skilled care facilities must be vaccinated by Oct. 1. Those who fail to reach the goal must regularly test unvaccinated employees for COVID-19. Nursing homes that do not comply with the test requirements are confronted with regulatory measures.
Currently, only one in eight nursing homes in Pennsylvania meets the 80 percent goal. “Which is insufficient from a public health perspective to prevent future outbreaks of the virus”, The health department announced this in a press release.
Nearly 60% of nursing home workers nationwide are vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 83% of the population got the injection.
“As COVID-19 cases rise, we are committed to preventing outbreaks by preventing COVID-19 from entering a nursing home in the first place. said Keara Klinepeter, a health department official.
COVID-19 swept through the state’s long-term care facilities, particularly at the start of the pandemic, killing more than 13,400 residents – nearly half the nationwide number.
Nursing home operators seemed divided over the new directive.
An industry group, the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, on Thursday pushed back what it called it “Another mandate” from the wolf administration. The group recently spoke out against the state’s proposal to require long-term care facilities to increase staff numbers and last year took the state to court over more than $ 150 million in federal coronavirus funding.
“Instead of proposing solutions to increase the acceptance rates of vaccines in long-term care, the Ministry of Health today threatened providers and issued penalties for nursing homes.” said Zach Shamberg, group president and CEO. “Working with providers – without penalizing them – leads to better results.”
Another trade group, LeadingAge PA, which has also challenged the Wolf administration over staffing and COVID-19 funding, said in a press release distributed by the state that it supports the new vaccination policy. The national LeadingAge organization has recommended that nursing homes make vaccination a condition of employment.
Also on Thursday, the Ministry of Health announced a dashboard showing COVID-19 vaccination rates by facility.
Vaxxed and masked at Made in America
According to Jay-Z’s Philadelphia Made in America festival, attendees must provide proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 test upon entry.
The negative test must take place within 48 hours of participation, the organizers announced on their website. And as part of the city’s new mask mandate, all participants, regardless of vaccination status, must wear face covering at events without outdoor seating with 1,000 or more people.
“The safety and health of festival visitors and staff is always the top priority.” Show organizers said.
Justin Bieber and Lil Baby, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat and others are headlining the two-day event over Labor Day weekend.
Last year’s festival was canceled due to the coronavirus. This year’s festival, which takes place on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
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