Judge denies state police union bid for vaccination delay
BOSTON (AP) — A Superior Court judge has turned down a request by the union that represents 1,800 Massachusetts State Police troopers to delay Gov. Charlie Baker’s state employee coronavirus vaccine mandate.
The State Police Association of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit last week saying the Oct. 17 deadline would cause troopers “irreparable harm” and they wanted more time to “negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment.”
A delay in implementation of the mandate would not serve the public interest, Judge Jackie Cowin said in Thursday’s decision.
“Specifically, the public interest is, unquestionably, best served by stopping the spread of the virus, in order to protect people from becoming ill, ensure adequate supply of medical services, and curtail the emergence of new, deadlier variants of the virus,” the decision said.
The union also asked that troopers who choose not to get vaccinated, or who have already had COVID-19, be allowed to instead wear a mask on the job and undergo weekly coronavirus testing.
Union President Michael Cherven in a statement on its website said he was disappointed in the ruling and that “dozens of troopers have already submitted their resignation paperwork,” and intend to work for police agencies “offering reasonable alternatives such as mask wearing and regular testing.”
“Throughout COVID, we have been on the front lines protecting the citizens of Massachusetts and beyond,” he said. “Simply put, all we are asking for are the same basic accommodations that countless other departments have provided to their first responders, and to treat a COVID related illness as a line of duty injury.”
A department spokesperson said no resignations had been received Friday.
Baker announced last month that 42,000 state workers and contractors in the executive branch are required to be vaccinated, or be granted a legitimate exemption, by Oct. 17 or face disciplinary action including possible termination.
The Massachusetts House took a first step toward fully reopening the Statehouse by voting Thursday to require all members and staff to be fully vaccinated if they want to work out of the building.
The 131-28 vote came after hours of debate. Democratic leaders described the mandate as critical to protecting the health of the hundreds of employees who work in the building. Masks will be also required in all House-controlled spaces in the Statehouse.
The move was opposed by nearly all Republicans. In a press release from the state Republican Party after the debate, Billerica GOP Rep. Marc Lombardo compared the mandate to the actions of a totalitarian regime.
“Elected representatives, provide proof of vaccination or be banned from coming into your office or the chamber, fail to comply, and you will lose your office staff,” he said. “This coercion would be expected in communist China, but not in the birthplace of American freedom.”
Democrats said the mandate will help safeguard those working in and visiting the historic building.
“Hey colleagues, in order to stop transmission of COVID, we need vaccination AND masks. Let’s mandate both for people in the State House,” Amherst Democratic Rep. Mindy Domb tweeted. “Masks prevent transmission, vaccines prevent illness and death.”
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by nearly 1,800 Friday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 13.
The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 18,154 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 749,000.
There were more than 600 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 160 in intensive care units.
The average age of those who have died from COVID-19 was 73.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
More than 4.6 million people in Massachusetts have been fully immunized against COVID-19.