AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin says it’s urging staff to get vaccinated, but that it can’t require vaccination due to a previous executive order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
On Wednesday afternoon, Austin Mayor Steve Adler officially urged City Manager Spencer Cronk to enact the requirement, as cases in the Austin-Travis County area have surged in the past few weeks.
Adler said Wednesday:
“With alarming increases in cases, ICU admissions, and community positivity rates, we must do more. We must especially act to better protect our children under 12 who cannot get vaccinated and are being put at needless increased risk. I am today asking the City Manager to require city employees to be vaccinated (subject only to appropriate exceptions). Further, I urge Austin businesses also to require their employees to become vaccinated. We must all lead by our own example.”Austin Mayor Steve Adler
The move came as city leaders continue being bound by Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates in governmental entities. Mayor Adler in particular has butted up against the order, saying that he’d enforce masking in the city — even for vaccinated people — if he could.
But a spokesperson for the City of Austin told KXAN later Wednesday afternoon that required vaccinations won’t be happening.
“The Governor’s Executive Order GA-35 prohibits the City from requiring vaccinations,” said the spokesperson. “However, the City Manager has urged staff to get vaccinated as an essential part of helping us end this pandemic. Being fully vaccinated is proven to provide the highest level of protection against COVID-19 and COVID variants.”
Mayor Adler says he knows that if the city were to have a vaccination mandate, it would not align with the governor’s order.
“But the legal question of whether or not a local health authority or local officials have the ability to adopt valid and enforceable rules for their local communities, is something that that seems to be an open question under Texas law,” Adler said. “You know, we’ve already done this twice. The City Health Authority mandated certain behaviors for businesses around New Year’s Eve. We’ve been in this place before where the Governor’s office and [state] attorney general has sued us for doing things they thought were in contravention of the governor’s order.”
Adler hopes this time will be different.
“No one wants there to be litigation. I would just hope that the governor would take a look at the same data here from the same doctors we’re hearing from and know how important it is for people to get vaccinated,” Adler explained.
Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force member Dr. Dr. Ogechika Alozie told KXAN he feels more needs to be done to get more people vaccinated.
“I think we sort of have failed in getting enough people in this country vaccinated because it’s been politicized, and so the next two things are mandates and potentially incentives,” Alozie said.
Dr. Alozie says he feels employers should have some control when it comes to employees being vaccinated.
“I truly believe that employers now have to take a role in this conversation. They can’t sit on the backburner anymore. They have to make a decision,” Alozie said. “I think it is fair for people to have mandates to get vaccinated, and I actually believe that if we’re going to engage in mandate conversation, it should be on things that we have data around which are the vaccines and not masks.”
Back in April, KXAN reported that only about 49% of Austin Police Department officers were vaccinated once it was made available to them, although this number did not include those who may have already been vaccinated on their own. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said that there was some vaccine hesitancy within the department.
APD said that while it made the vaccine available to employees, it does not “in any way influence the decision of our officers.”
On Tuesday, Adler condemned Abbott for the mask ban, especially as it bars Texas school districts from enforcing mask wearing as in-person classes begin for fall.
“As the CDC prepares to recommend all K-12 students wear masks, a reminder that @GovAbbott has made it impossible for Texas schools to protect students and for cities to protect its citizens,” Adler tweeted.
Later that day, Abbott reiterated previous statements that he wouldn’t reinstate the mandate, no matter the surging case numbers and hospitalizations.
“The time for government mask mandates is over — now is the time for personal responsibility,” Abbott tweeted. “…Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks.”
As of the last update on July 28, there are currently 2,151 active cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County. A reported 314 people are hospitalized, 106 are in the ICU, and 58 people are on ventilators.
Last week, Austin-Travis County entered Stage 4 guidelines for COVID-19 risk.
Can an employer require vaccination?
The answer is yes.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains:
“The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19…”U.S. EEOC
Rogge Dunn, a Dallas labor and employment attorney, told CNBC many of his corporate clients are leaning toward making vaccines mandatory.
“Under the law, an employer can force an employee to get vaccinated, and if they don’t take it, fire them,” said Dunn.
Dunn said some businesses may even see being able to tout an all-vaccinated staff may be attractive to customers and clients, saying businesses he’d talked to indicated “they think it may give them a competitive advantage.”
Nationally, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that a vaccination requirement is being considered for all federal employees. Government employees in California and in New York City must show proof of vaccination or get weekly COVID-19 testing.