New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond (at the mic) with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, city attorney Kevin Casini, and Mayor Justin Elicker at Friday’s press conference.

The Elicker Administration is “exploring” a vaccination mandate for city employees, and is strongly encouraging —though not requiring— that New Haveners wear masks while indoors in public places, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

Mayor Justin Elicker and city Health Director Maritza Bond gave those updates Friday morning during a press conference held on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

The focus of Friday’s presser was the end of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) nationwide eviction moratorium. City and state officials and local housing nonprofit leaders reminded renters across the city and the state that hundreds of millions of dollars in rent and utility relief remain available through the UniteCT program for qualified applicants. Hundreds of thousands of dollars remain in the city’s CASTLE renter and homeowner relief program, as well.

Given the recent uptick in Covid infections and hospitalizations in the region, state, and country, however, the latter half of the press conference focused instead on what the city is doing and can require to stem the spread of the highly infections Delta variant.

Asked if the city plans to impose a vaccination mandate for city employees, Elicker replied, “We’re exploring that at this point.”

“There are some questions around labor,” he continued. “Some questions around the logistics of how we provide testing, if that were a requirement of people [who are not vaccinated. Some questions around how we make sure that we appropriately track data and keep this information private. We want to make sure that we do this right.”

Local, state and federal agencies have increasingly turned to vaccination mandates for public employees over the past week as the Delta variant spreads like wildfire. New York City and the state government of California are both requiring that public employees get vaccinated. So too has the federal Department of Veteran Affairs.

Private local employers like Quinnipiac UniversityYale University, and Yale New Haven Health have also adopted vaccination mandates for staff. YNHH’s top doctor said on Thursday that the regional hospital system’s mandate sparked over 577 additional individuals to get vaccinated in the 28,000-employee system, bringing YNHH’s total employee vaccination rate to over 80 percent.

Asked what percentage of city employees are vaccinated, Elicker said the city is not allowed to track that information.

Bond stressed that the city and Griffin Health have free vaccination clinics available every day on the Green, on Long Wharf, and at Lighthouse Point Park. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community from the novel coronavirus—especially from serious sickness, hospitalization, and death.

“Right now, there are no excuses,” she said. “Get out. Get vaccinated.”

Masks Recommended, not required

Elicker, Bond and state Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said that, as of yesterday, New Haven County has “substantial” levels of transmission of Covid, per the CDC’s benchmark of 50 new cases per day per for every 100,000 residents. New Haven County currently has a rolling seven-day average of 52.18 new cases per 100,000 residents.

That means that all New Haveners, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, should wear masks when indoors in public places with other people.

“We have continued this policy all along at City Hall,” Elicker said about mask-wearing. Outside of City Hall, he added, “we very, very strongly encourage” people to wear masks indoors, “though we can’t require it.”

Why can’t the city require mask wearing at, say, restaurants and grocery stores and retail outlets, when the city did impose that very same requirement earlier on in the pandemic?

Elicker said that city attorneys’ reading of the a May executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont is that the city cannot impose a mask requirement outside of publicly-owned buildings.

The executive order allows private sector operations to “choose whether or not to have a mask mandate,” he said. It also allows municipalities to “choose whether in their buildings to have masks or not.”

“If it were up to me, I’d issue a mandate again,” Elicker said. But, deferring to city attorneys’ interpretation of the executive order, the state has “taken away our ability” to do that.

Bysiewicz said that the state Department of Public Health has also strongly recommended that Connecticut residents in counties with “substantial” levels of transmission—like New Haven—wear masks while indoors, regardless of whether or not they’re vaccinated.

This story was first published July 0, 2021, by the New Haven Independent.