Mounting trash. Closed firehouses. Fewer police and ambulances on the street.
That’s the possibility New York City is bracing for come Monday as a COVID-19 vaccine mandate looms and thousands of municipal workers remain unwilling to get the shots.
Police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors and most other city workers face a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Workers who don’t comply will be put on unpaid leave starting Monday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio held firm on the mandate as firefighters rallied Thursday outside his official residence, sanitation workers appeared to be skipping garbage pick ups in protest and the city’s largest police union went to an appeals court seeking a halt to the vaccine requirement.
Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the hard deadline “sets the city up for a real crisis.” Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, warned longer response times will “be a death sentence to some people.”
De Blasio said Thursday that the city has contingencies to maintain adequate staffing and public safety, including mandatory overtime and extra shifts — tools that he said were typically used “in times of challenging crisis.”
The mayor called the sanitation slowdowns “unacceptable” and said the department will move to 12-hour and begin working Sunday shifts to ensure trash doesn’t pile up.
“My job is to keep people safe — my employees, and 8.8 million people,” de Blasio said at a virtual news briefing. “And until we defeat COVID, people are not safe. If we don’t stop COVID, New Yorkers will die.”
People who refuse to get vaccinated are now a big factor in the continued spread of the virus. Backers of mandates say New Yorkers have a right not to be infected by public servants unwilling to get the shots.
Nearly one-fifth of city employees covered by the impending mandate have yet to receive at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday, including 16% of police personnel, 29% of firefighters and EMS workers and 33% of sanitation workers, according to city data. City jail guards have another month to comply.
As of 8 p.m. Thursday, 33,400 city workers remained unvaccinated.
The fire department said it was prepared to close up to 20% of its fire companies and have 20% fewer ambulances in service while changing schedules, canceling vacations and turning to outside EMS providers to make up for expected staffing shortages.
“The department must manage the unfortunate fact that a portion of our workforce has refused to comply with a vaccine mandate for all city employees,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who had COVID-19 in January, said his department was sending reminders to workers whose records indicated they hadn’t yet received a shot and that NYPD vaccination sites will remain open all weekend.