Adler wants to require vaccines for Austin city workers; state won't allow it, city manager says
Mayor Steve Adler says he wants to require all city of Austin employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and has called on City Manager Spencer Cronk to make that happen.
Adler made the request Wednesday in a statement that also included a plea to Austin business owners to require their employees to get vaccinated.
But in response to Adler's message, a city spokesperson said Cronk could only recommend vaccinations for city employees — because making it a requirement would run afoul of an existing statewide order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.
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The response from Cronk's office said: "The governor’s Executive Order GA-35 prohibits the city from requiring vaccinations. 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.”
The executive order from Abbott states that "no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization."
Adler's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cronk's response.
Adler's and Cronk's exchange happened the day before President Joe Biden announced a requirement that federal workers be vaccinated or else submit to strict COVID-19 testing measures.
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The back-and-forth between Adler and Cronk comes as Austin City Hall was gearing up to return to business as usual but now finds itself facing a jump in new coronavirus cases in the area, due in part to the arrival of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.
The 490 new coronavirus cases registered in Travis County on Wednesday represented the highest single day total since early February, which was prior to vaccinations becoming widely available. More than 300 patients were in area hospitals with COVID-19 — the most since late February — and 106 of those patients were in intensive care.
If those trends worsen, Adler warned, the city will soon enter Stage 5, the strictest stage on the city's risk-based COVID-19 guidelines. Austin reached Stage 4 last Friday.
The number of city employees who are vaccinated is unknown, so it's hard to gauge the potential impact of Adler's proposal if it were to be enacted. Overall in Travis County, 63% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 72% have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Medical experts say that although vaccinated people can still get infected, the overwhelming majority of new hospitalizations involve unvaccinated patients.
In his statement, Adler said: “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."
Adler was similarly outspoken about the rise in new cases at the end of the Austin City Council's work session Tuesday. It was the first in-person meeting held since March 2020. Adler wore a mask on the dais, as did other council members.