Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information since its publication in the Aug. 5 print edition.
PROVINCETOWN — Since May, Patrick Patrick, head of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce and owner of Marine Specialties on Commercial Street, has required his 18 staff members to show proof of vaccination.
“I just assumed everyone was requiring it,” he said. “I am worried about unvaccinated people getting sick, and I have zero tolerance for anyone who is putting anyone at risk.”
It is legal to make proof of vaccination a condition of employment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws.
Yet Marine Specialties is one of just three businesses the Independent could identify in Provincetown who are requiring staff vaccinations. The others are the Pilgrim House and the Boatslip Resort, according to knowledgeable sources.
The board of health has just approved a certification program to encourage more vaccination of staff and customers. The board will issue a plaque or sticker to be displayed in businesses to indicate if staff are fully vaccinated, or if vaccination cards are required for all who enter, or both.
Local health-care providers are not rushing into vaccine requirements. But with just 49 percent of the U.S. general population fully vaccinated and the Delta variant raging, pressure is mounting for health-care providers especially to require vaccinations in their workplaces.
The American Medical Association came out in support of a vaccine mandate for those working in health care on July 26. “We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19,” the statement on its website declares. Fifty-seven other medical groups nationwide signed on.
The AMA statement quotes Dr. Susan R. Bailey, its immediate past president, saying, “Increased vaccinations among health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of Covid-19 but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care workforce and those we are striving to serve.”
On the Outer Cape, where vaccination rates are higher — the Mass. Dept of Public Health estimates 81 to over 95 percent of residents here are vaccinated — it does not appear that Outer Cape Health Services is requiring vaccinations. That is what OCHS spokesperson Gerry Desautels told the Independent on Jan. 5, seven months ago.
Desautels did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails requesting an update on OCHS’s policy or plans. OCHS staff have told the Independent there is no vaccine requirement, but they must get tested weekly.
Cape Cod Healthcare is not requiring staff vaccinations either, according to president and CEO Mike Lauf, who said that 90 percent of his 5,000 employees are vaccinated. Although the company, which owns both of the Cape’s hospitals and is the largest medical provider by far here, does not now require staff be vaccinated, “We continue to monitor CDC and state guidance on this matter,” Lauf wrote in a prepared statement.
Marlishia Aho, communications director of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which represents Cape Cod Healthcare employees, said everyone agrees vaccinations are the best way to curb this crisis. The union does not want a mandate, however, Aho said. Its reason is that a requirement would “disregard deep-seated fears of historic medical racism” among staff and add more stress to their lives, according to Aho.
What the union does want, Aho said, is “increased education and access.”
Long-term care staff no longer have that option, however. On Aug. 4, Gov. Charlie Baker required all long-term care facilities to impose staff vaccine mandates. AdviniaCare, which owns the long-term care facilities at Seashore Point in Provincetown and Pleasant Bay Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brewster, had only been “strongly encouraging” vaccination, while making unvaccinated employees get tested before each shift, David Ball, a spokesman for AdviniaCare said on Aug. 3.
The Cape Cod Times reported on July 22 that 72.6 percent of staff members at Massachusetts nursing homes are vaccinated. That is the sixth highest rate in the nation.
Maybe “strong encouragement” is enough, said state Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro. In communities where vaccination rates are high, there is already vaccine-induced herd immunity, he said, so a vaccination requirement may not have much effect.
Cyr said he knows of Outer Cape business owners who have one or two staff members who won’t get the vaccine. But they are a small minority.
The Boatslip Resort, which has been requiring vaccination cards at the door, has the right idea, Cyr said. Some type of universal vaccination card would be convenient, he added.
Cyr said the real focus right now, in progressive communities like the Outer Cape, should be correcting the misinformation being spread about vaccines.
“The data and science are overwhelmingly clear,” said Cyr. “These vaccines are working.”