Ron Kim, Democratic candidate for mayor in Saratoga Springs, on Monday said if elected he would push to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all city employees.
Kim argued that city officials should require employees receive the vaccine as a critical step to combatting the pandemic and ensuring the city is positioned to rebound economically.
“We have to take these steps to make sure we conquer this pandemic because it’s clearly not good for our economy,” Kim said in a Monday interview.
He said efforts to encourage people hesitant to take the vaccine have not done enough to boost vaccination rates and said he would lead an effort to get the City Council to adopt a requirement for all city employees – from public works employees to city police officers and everyone in between. (Kim said he would be open to specific medical exemptions.)
“This is the only way we are going to get through this,” Kim said. “There are no carrots that seem to be working.”
Saratoga Springs city officials in recent weeks have ramped up health and safety precautions in the midst of rising case numbers, mandating masks inside City Hall and other facilities. But they have not imposed a vaccination requirement.
Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who is running for mayor as an independent, on Monday said a vaccine mandate was under active consideration among city officials.
“As we know, there is no one layer of protection that keeps us safe from getting COVID, and so we are exploring all options, including mandating vaccines,” Dalton said in an interview.
She said the legalities of a vaccine mandate and implications on current collective bargaining contracts were being studied, adding that she thinks vaccines are key to ending the pandemic and protecting at-risk people.
“We all need to get back to normalcy, we have to start getting back to life as we knew it, and we have to start protecting people whose lives are at risk … We need it to end,” Dalton said. “The only way to do that is to get people vaccinated.”
Heidi Owen West, who is running for mayor on the Republican line, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Vaccine requirements across governments, public agencies and businesses have increased steadily in recent months. Hospital systems in the Capital Region and across much of the country have established staff vaccine requirements, leading some employees to resign rather than submit to the requirements. A North Country hospital announced Monday that it would stop performing child deliveries due to a staffing shortage.
Gov. Kathy Hochul last week delayed implementation of a vaccine requirement for state employees to Oct. 12, according to The Associated Press. The mandate, first announced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was originally meant to go into effect this week for about 130,000 state employees.
Numerous large cities across the country, including New York City, have imposed vaccine mandates on their employees, and President Joe Biden last week outlined similar vaccine requirements for federal employees and contractors.
It’s not clear how many city employees are already vaccinated. Mayor Meg Kelly did not respond to a request for comment Monday and neither did the city’s human resources administrator when asked if the city was tracking employee vaccine status.
But nearly 70 percent of Saratoga County residents have completed an entire vaccine series, while over 80 percent of eligible county residents have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
Kim said he was not worried about a mandate leading to staffing problems and that if someone refused the vaccine their position could be filled.
“I suppose if you are so strong in your belief you refuse to work at a place, there are other people,” Kim said. “[The vaccine] has been proven safe; it’s definitely been proven effective.”
He also said residents and city employees should think in terms of their responsibility to other residents in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis.
“We have to stop thinking about individual rights and about our responsibility to each other, and that’s the kind of mayor I’m going to be,” he said. “We have to start thinking about what’s our responsibility to other Saratogians.”