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Austin Mayor Wants Mandatory COVID Vaccines For Most City Staff. City Says It Can't Order That.

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, City Manager Spencer Cronk and Mayor Steve Adler sit on the dais.
Julia Reihs
Council Member Greg Casar, City Manager Spencer Cronk and Mayor Steve Adler listen to public testimony about the proposed land code at City Hall in 2019. Adler is pushing for city employees to be vaccinated, but the city says an order from Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits the city from requiring it.

The city says it cannot require city employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine — despite Mayor Steve Adler's call to do so.

Adler says the recent surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, caused by the highly contagious delta variant, prompted him to make the request. He is also urging Austin businesses to require employees to get vaccinated.

“With alarming increases in cases, ICU admissions and community positivity rates, we must do more," Adler said Wednesday. "We must especially act to better protect our children under 12 who cannot get vaccinated and are being put at needless increased risk."

But in a statement to KUT, city spokesperson Andy Tate said the city manager is limited by an executive order Gov. Greg Abbott issued in April prohibiting government entities and state agencies from requiring individuals to provide proof of vaccination.

He said City Manager Spencer Cronk is urging staff to get vaccinated.

Austin Public Health reported 451 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, and the seven-day moving average of COVID-related hospitalizations in the Austin metropolitan area — a number officials watch carefully when making health recommendations — was 47. That number was below seven on June 19, the lowest it had been since the pandemic started.

The precipitous increase prompted health officials to raise their risk-assessment guidelines to Stage 4 last week — just a week after having elevated it to Stage 3. And the area is inching closer toward reaching a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations, the threshold for APH to consider going into Stage 5, the highest level in its risk-assessment scale.

The uptick also comes as vaccination efforts have stagnated. More than 25% of the area's population remains unvaccinated, and health officials are struggling to convince them to get a shot. Officials say the vast majority of current COVID-related hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients.

Two of the area’s main hospital systems, Baylor Scott & White and Ascension, recently announced they will require most employees to get vaccinated amid the spike in COVID-19 cases and staff burnout.

Nadia Hamdan is a local news anchor and host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT.
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