During the immediate run-up to Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its 18,000-strong workforce, the vast majority of city employees were in compliance with the new requirement, Mayor Michelle Wu’s office said Friday.
As of Friday, more than 16,864 workers verified they are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received at least two shots, while 561 confirmed that they are partially vaccinated, according to the mayor’s office. To be in compliance with Saturday’s deadline, city workers must have at least one dose.
Following the deadline, city authorities “will review all submissions and ensure every employee has had the opportunity to get the vaccine and submit their info,” Wu’s office said in a statement.
Employees who are not in compliance with the rule will face discipline “up to and including termination.” A spokeswoman for Wu said Friday night that starting on Jan. 24, staff members still without proof of vaccination would be placed on unpaid administrative leave, pending further action.
Asked Friday during an appearance on the “Notorious in the Morning” radio program when noncompliant workers will be fired, and when the city’s police force will diversify its ranks, Wu offered a measured response to both issues.
“This is not meant to be something that’s [meant] to punish anyone,” Wu said. “Whether it’s about getting into restaurants or working for the city, right? ... We need to make sure our city workforce reflects everyone. And there’s a lot, a lot of work to do there.”
Under the new mandate, which Wu announced last month to help curb the spread of the virus, city workers will have until Saturday to receive a first vaccine dose and until Feb. 15 for the second dose, unless they are granted medical or religious exemptions. It was not clear how many exemptions the city had granted by Friday. The city also did not detail how many workers were not in compliance as of Friday.
With the new mandate, Wu, who was sworn in in November, eliminated an option for city workers to be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated. The move was met with pushback, and protesters demonstrated against Wu at events and in front of her Roslindale home.
Earlier this week, a Suffolk Superior Court judge rejected a request from three public safety unions to block enforcement of Wu’s COVID vaccine mandate.
The plaintiffs had argued that the policy couldn’t be enforced until Wu’s team bargains with unions for firefighters, police supervisors, and detectives. But Judge Jeffrey Locke said from the bench that he was siding with the city.
“I will not enjoin the enforcement of the policy as of Jan. 15,” Locke said during the remote hearing. “Because I think that the public health emergency now is of such a nature that it outweighs competing claims of harm by the plaintiffs.”
In addition to the mandate kicking in for city workers on Saturday, new vaccine requirements for the city’s indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment establishments will also take effect.
Inspectors from the Boston Public Health Commission, Inspectional Services Department, and Licensing Board will make checks for compliance, according to Wu’s office.
Businesses not in compliance with the new rule initially will receive a warning, and if they continue to not comply, they may be fined “or face other enforcement action.” The city will have a mix of complaint-based checks of businesses along with regular checks to ensure the rules are being followed, the mayor’s office said.
During her Friday radio appearance, Wu said that Boston’s proof-of-vaccine requirement taking effect Saturday for certain businesses is meant to protect public health, stressing that that policy and a separate vaccine mandate for city workers aren’t intended “to punish anyone.”
“It’s not about grocery stores at all,” Wu said. “It’s not about just walking around on the street or in your house.”
Rather, she said, public health concerns are guiding the city’s decision-making on indoor public spaces where people congregate in close quarters for lengthy stretches.
But not everyone is convinced the new rules for indoor spaces constitute the right move.
Bob Luz, chief executive for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said Friday that a small percentage of restaurants will be fine because they already have vaccination requirements for patrons, but for others it will be “another obstacle in the road to recovery.”
“It’s giving a false sense of security,” said Luz, who added that many COVID-19 cases are so-called breakthrough cases, where fully vaccinated people catch the virus.
“At this point, after 22 months, it feels like Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” he said about the mood of restaurant owners.
However, Mark Harrington Jr., who owns two Boston gyms and operates five others in the city, fully supports the new mandate saying that the public health data show “that we need to get vaccinated and move on from the pandemic.” Overwhelmingly, gym members have favored the mandate in their feedback, he said.
”The mandate will spur people to feel more comfortable to come back to gyms and restaurants downtown and revitalize our businesses,” he said.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.