By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
ROCKY HILL — Like many Connecticut employers and workers, Gov. Ned Lamont has a lot to learn about President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large companies, but he says he will follow the president’s lead.
Lamont told reporters on Monday that he understands why Biden decided to order all private employers with more than 100 employees to require them to be vaccinated or test for the coronavirus weekly.
“There are a lot of states that are in a very different position now. There are a lot of states that are flaring up. There are a lot of states that have kids who cannot get to school measured in the tens and hundreds of thousands, and that’s why the president wanted to push a little harder,” he said “So, we’ll follow his lead.”
Lamont also floated the idea of Connecticut possibly establishing a digital validation system that employers and employees could use to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. He referenced neighboring New York state’s Excelsior Pass and Excelsior Pass Plus programs.
The Excelsior Pass program provides secure, digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results. The Excelsior Pass Plus program provides New Yorkers a secure, digital copy of test results and vaccination records, including the vaccine type, site and date of vaccination.
Lamont said developing a digital verification platform for use in Connecticut could make it easier for employers to verify vaccination status.
Asked about Biden’s proposal Monday, he said he has generally preferred to encourage vaccination rather than require it, though he has issued emergency orders requiring state employees in the executive branch, K-12 teachers and child care workers get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing.
In the coming weeks, the U.S. Department of Labor will be issuing a rule to carry out the presidential mandate for affected private employers through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“First of all, we have to wait for OSHA,” Lamont said during a news conference at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. “It is easy for political people to say, ‘bingo, here’s the mandate.’”
The Republican Governors Association released a critical statement a few hours after Lamont commented on Biden’s workplace mandate, blasting the Connecticut Democrat for being silent on the president’s sweeping vaccine requirement, and for focusing on a vaccine passport system that will be burdensome for small businesses.
LAMONT CONTINUED TO RESIST the idea of requiring a COVID-19 vaccination to attend public and private school in Connecticut for students who are old enough to be immunized.
“I think we’re not quite there yet. I want to keep kids in schools, and I want to keep teachers there. We’ve mandated it obviously for teachers and vaccines. I think that is really important,” he said.
Lamont was asked to respond to comments on mandatory school vaccinations that U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona made on Monday morning during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.
During the segment, Cardona was asked if all school districts should require students age 12 and older to be vaccinated to attend in-person classes as did the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country.
“You know, those are local decisions, but I do believe yes. If we’re seeing vaccines work, and they are our best tools, they should,” replied Cardona, Connecticut’s former education commissioner.
Lamont estimated two-thirds of 12- to 17-year-olds in Connecticut are vaccinated. Nearly 56% of the 12-to-15 age group is fully vaccinated, as is 60% of the 16-to-24 age group, according to the latest state statistics.
Lamont indicated his thinking on a student vaccine mandate could change with evolving developments, such as if COVID-19 vaccines are fully approved for children under 12, the vaccination rate among of adolescents remains flat, or the state outbreak flares up again.
So far, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received emergency authorization for adolescents age 12 to 17. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only approved for adults age 18 and older.
A REVISED EXECUTIVE ORDER issued Friday clarified opt-out provisions in Lamont’s vaccine mandate for state employees, school staff and child care workers
The clarifying directive specified that covered employees could not only seek medical or religious exemptions and opt for weekly testing, but they could also just opt for weekly testing.
“I think we needed some clarification on who was covered there, and we wanted to provide that,” Lamont said Monday.
He had no updates on the status of impact bargaining with state employee unions over certain aspects of the vaccine mandate
“Obviously we’re in discussions,” Lamont said.
He also said Paul Mounds Jr., his chief of staff, is continuing negotiations with legislative leaders concerning another extension of his emergency powers to manage the state response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The current declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergencies expire Sept. 30, but Lamont said the pandemic will continue.
“It doesn’t end on Sept. 30. We’ve got to be able to respond and respond quickly to keep people safe,” he said.
STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS REPORTED Monday there were 1,348 new cases of COVID-19 out of 57,631 test results received since Friday for a 2.34% positive test rate.
There have been 380,281 cases reported since March 2020, and more than 10.7 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed.
There have been 8,416 coronavirus-associated deaths, according to the most recent reported totals.
There was a net decline of 37 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend to 327 statewide, including 109 patients in Hartford County, 83 patients in Fairfield County and 80 in New Haven Country.
There have been 3,917 cases in Naugatuck, 1,059 in Prospect and 635 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to health officials.
There have been 99 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.