The COVID-19 vaccine is now being distributed across Texas by both Pfizer and Moderna, with frontline healthcare workers and EMS first responders among the first recipients. With wider access on the horizon, some are wondering: Will I be required to get vaccinated to return to work?
Legally, yes, local employment lawyers told Austonia. And economically, a mandate or incentive program to ensure employees are inoculated just makes sense.
"I would say that it's going to lean pretty seriously toward (businesses) requiring vaccines for all employees," trial lawyer Daniel Ross told Austonia.
Ross's firm, Ross Scalise Law Group, specializes in employment law and has heard from a number of employees concerned about pandemic-era workplace protections.
Although there are exemptions that would apply if a business decided to mandate a vaccine, such as in the case of religious beliefs, pregnancy and disability, generally an employer can require its employees to be vaccinated.
"The (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has basically said that privacy rights of employees to refuse a vaccination does not overrule the benefits of health and safety to the other employees and the population in general," Ross said.
The pandemic is unprecedented in recent American history, but a vaccine mandate wouldn't be totally new.
Schools often require students to be vaccinated against certain diseases as a condition of enrollment, although they too must observe exemptions protected under the law.
And some states require hospital workers to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu each year, said Stephanie Taub, an attorney at the First Liberty Group, a Plano-based law firm that focuses on religious freedoms.
But there are exemptions that apply in the case of current workplace policies—and would if a business imposed a vaccine mandate.
Typically, an employee and employer would work together to arrive at an accommodation that serves both parties.
Tuab gave the example of an employee who observes the Sabbath. In such cases, the employer may allow for the person to work other days of the week to ensure their religious freedoms are protected.
During the pandemic, many employees have raised concerns about working in an office because of underlying conditions or their age, both of which could put them at risk for a more severe case of COVID-19—and dying from it. An employer, in this case, may allow that person to work from home.
"That's a very common accommodation," Ross said.
None of Austin's major employers—which include tech companies such as Apple, Dell and IBM; government entities such as the city of Austin, Austin ISD and the University of Texas at Austin; and hospital systems such as Ascension Seton and St. David's HealthCare—have yet announced a vaccine mandate.
But they could, legally. They may also consider an alternative route.
Daniel Hamermesh, a professor emeritus in UT Austin's economics department, said he would consider an incentives program, such as giving employees a $100 bonus if they receive the COVID vaccine.
"If I were an employer who depends upon customers coming in, I would like to be able to advertise all the people who would be serving you as coronavirus-free because they had been vaccinated," he told Austonia. "To me, this is a very good way to attract customers."
Such a program would likely appeal to offices and other workplaces—in addition to retail establishments—because of the costs of absenteeism and healthcare premiums, both of which could increase if employees return to work without being vaccinated.
An incentive program also skirts the legal requirements of a mandate—and the possibility of any political backlash.
"No one's going to refuse to go to a place because the workers are vaccinated," Hamermesh said.
- Iconic Austin businesses that have closed due to COVID-19: - austonia ›
- Texas gov promises wider COVID-19 vaccine access - austonia ›
- Flu season: Austin health officials are focused on vaccines - austonia ›
- UT will distribute 3,000 of Austin's first COVID-19 vaccines - austonia ›
- UT professor played role in Pfizer and Moderna's COVID vaccines ... ›
- Austin vaccine recipients feel relief, guilt amid slow rollout - austonia ›
- Austin's coworking spaces rebound thanks to tech migration - austonia ›
It may not come as a surprise that dating app use surged during the pandemic when many had to swap the benefits of in-person dating for on-screen connections. Bumble revenue swelled to $337.2 million in 2020 compared to $275.5 million, Hinge revenue tripled in the same period and Tinder users broke two records from January to March of 2021.
What may be more intriguing, however, is that many apps anticipate more growth into 2022. Hinge expects to double its revenue by the end of 2021, while Tinder has announced several new features to meet new demands in time for what some are calling a "third surge" of COVID-19.
Vaccinated Austinites who had been eager for "Shot Girl Summer"—a season of in-person dating, going out and making up for time lost—may have to get back on the apps, at least partially, as cases rise higher than they've been since February and mask recommendations reenter the picture.
Austin-area resident Chloe Mohr, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, had sometimes used Tinder before the pandemic. While the app wasn't a supplemental replacement for deeper connections during stay-at-home orders, it did help her stay in the dating game and continue meeting new people.
"Using dating apps during the pandemic was easy when wanting something casual or entertaining," Mohr, who now works in marketing, said.
Chloe Mohr turned to Tinder more during the pandemic to stay connected to people. (Chloe Mohr)
Sixty percent of members came to Tinder because they felt lonely and wanted to connect with people, a Tinder study revealed, and chats were 32% longer during the pandemic.
But dating during a pandemic is no walk in the park when there's fear about contracting COVID, Mohr said. She had fears at the beginning
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OkCupid have responded to the new dating criteria, adding vaccination badges to profiles in partnership with U.S. and British governments.
In order to meet the demand for a stricter screening process and the superficial nature of swiping, Tinder has also introduced new features that allow users to add videos to their profiles and chat with others before they've even matched.
The new add-ons could be beneficial for the app as interest continues to swell—Google searches for "dating" have hit a five-year high, according to NPR.
But the future of dating could be vastly different—and stay different—even well into the next decade.
According to a Ypulse study, 43% of dating app users said the apps made them feel less lonely in the pandemic. Even post-pandemic, 40% of Tinder users say they plan on video-chatting with their matches before they meet, and being honest, authentic and respecting boundaries have become big talk on the app in the past year.
While it's unclear how the pandemic will shape dating for good, signs show that Austin residents and those nationwide may lean on dating apps once again if social distancing returns to the norm.
- New nonstop flights for Shot Girl Summer: Take our news quiz ... ›
- Rejoining the dating world: Making out with high school ex in Austin ... ›
- Austin's four richest self-made women in America, Forbes - austonia ›
- Bumble: 2 out of 3 people say you can fall in love before meeting ... ›
- Rejoining the dating world: Making out with high school ex in Austin ... ›
- Austinites are getting back into in-person dating in 2021 - austonia ›
- Why Bumble's IPO means Austin will get a billion dollars richer ... ›
- Pandemic dating is no walk in the park, Austin residents say - austonia ›
- How dating app The Round launched during the pandemic - Austin ... ›
- Austin Is Nation's Best City For Dating Amid Pandemic: Report ... ›
- PANDEMIC DATING: Outbreak has dating app makers like Austin's ... ›
- The Austinites Guide to Better Dating | by Kristina Modares | Austin ... ›
- Is Austin really the worst city when it comes to ghosting? | KXAN Austin ›
- A frank view of Austin dating in HBO documentary 'Swiped' - News ... ›
With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone wear a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
- Most patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated - austonia ›
- Unvaccinated Austinites at risk of Delta variant with hospitals seeing ... ›
- UT warn of full-capacity ICUs, up to 11,000 more hospitalizations ... ›
- COVID hospitalizations reach Stage 4 threshold - austonia ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
- Austin City Council drags on homeless camping ban reinstatement ... ›
- Conservative Jennifer Virden announces run for Austin mayor ... ›
- No homeless public camping vote on November ballot for Austin ... ›
- Save Austin Now sues city of Austin over camping ban petition ... ›
- City files response to Save Austin Now lawsuit - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now tries again to reinstate camping ban - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now calls on attorney in fight over Austin no-camping ... ›
- Save Austin Now relaunches petition to reinstate camping ban ... ›
- Save Austin Now submits police staffing petition - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now launches petition against crime - austonia ›