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Judge’s block on NY medical worker vaccine mandate only for religious exemptions

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 5:08 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - There’s clarification on a judge’s order that blocks the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. The legal decision doesn’t affect all workers. In fact, very few have a temporary reprieve.

It’s just for those who claim “religious exemptions.” This means a deadline, under 2 weeks away, still exists for other unvaccinated health care workers.

There have been no resignations yet at Watertown’s Samaritan Medical Center as the September 27 deadline looms, but hospital officials believe they’re coming - estimating SMC could lose between 50 to 100 workers.

“Losing just one is very detrimental to us and it’s quite unfortunate. But for now, those are the best estimates we can come up with,” said Samaritan spokeswoman Leslie DiStefano.

A federal judge’s temporary block to the state vaccine mandate was first thought to be a win for health care workers, but it only applies to those who claim religious exemptions.

Samaritan officials believe the number of workers who are unvaccinated and qualify for a religious exemption will be low.

Lewis County Health System announced last week it has to “pause” delivering babies after September 24 because too many maternity unit workers have resigned. Officials say 42 hospital workers have resigned in total.

Again, the judge’s block for religious exemptions isn’t expected to include a ton of workers at Lewis County General Hospital. CEO Jerry Cayer tells 7 News of the 114 employees currently unvaccinated, about 10 percent might qualify.

So, it’s clear staffing at local hospitals could reach a critical low in under 2 weeks.

On Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul said the state will appeal the judge’s decision.

“I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion. In fact, they’re doing the opposite. They’re encouraging their members, everyone from the Pope on down is encouraging their members to get vaccinated,” she said.

According to the governor’s mandate, all health care workers must have at least one shot by September 27. If the state opposes the request for a preliminary court order blocking the mandate, which it likely will, an oral hearing will be held September 28.

There’s also a federal vaccine mandate, but there’s no specific deadline attached to that.

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