Employees with medical exemptions to the vaccine will go on temporary medical leave the same day, Oct. 2, but they may be eligible for pay based on their union’s collective bargaining agreement with United.
Unvaccinated Workers Face Unpaid Leave
United Airlines announced Wednesday that any of its unvaccinated employees who’ve been granted religious exemptions from taking the COVID-19 vaccine will be placed on temporary, unpaid leave starting Oct. 2.
“Given the dire statistics… we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated co-workers,” Kirk Limacher, United’s vice president of human resources, told workers in a memo, according to The Washington Post.
United said if an employee’s request for a religious exemption is denied, they’ll need to get vaccinated within five weeks or they’ll be terminated. Additionally, they must receive their first dose by Sep. 27.
Meanwhile, employees who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons will be put on temporary medical leave, but whether they get paid is based on their union’s collective bargaining agreement with United.
As for when employees can return, United didn’t give a specific date. Instead, it said pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, and airport customer service agents with exemptions can return “once the pandemic meaningfully recedes.” Mechanics and dispatchers will be able to return after the company implements new testing measures and other policies.
Airlines Impose Strict Rules for Unvaccinated Workers
This is just the latest turning of the screw for airlines in their attempt to clamp down on unvaccinated workers.
On Aug. 6, United told its employees that they must get vaccinated if they don’t have a valid exemption. While United had already estimated that its employee vaccination rates were extremely high, it said Wednesday that most of its workers who were unvaccinated when the mandate was announced have since gotten vaccinated.
In late August, Delta Airlines announced it would charge its unvaccinated employees an additional $200 a month in health coverage starting in November. It added that effective Sep. 30, COVID pay protection will only be offered to fully vaccinated employees who experience breakthrough cases.
Late last week, American Airlines reportedly made a similar move, telling employees that pandemic leave will only be offered to those who are vaccinated.
The Debate Around Religious Exemptions
The use of religious exemptions to avoid getting the vaccine has been fairly controversial throughout the pandemic. Following United’s latest announcement, that debate once reemerged.
“This move by United Airlines is essentially calling the “religious exception” bluff, Juliette Kayyem, a former Homeland Security official under former President Obama, said. “United is simply testing their ‘faith’ for whatever ‘religion’ they are claiming.”
Others have criticized the new policy as “cruel” and even said, “Making a choice to remain unvaccinated is becoming very expensive. And while these decisions are in the interest of public health, they leads to a very slippery slope. I do hope people don’t lose their trust in vaccines or the concept of a free society.”
Still, such arguments haven’t been without pushback, once Twitter user arguing, “Making a choice to remain unvaccinated should be very expensive. Those doing it should bear the burdens for their choice. Not the rest of us.”
Whatever the debate surrounding this issue, it’s possible that United’s policy could serve as a litmus test for whether other companies implement similar rules.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (NPR)
China Decrees All Crypto-Related Transactions Illegal
The announcement has led to significant sell-offs in the crypto market, though many analysts expect those sell-offs to be short-term.
Crypto Is Illegal in China
China’s central bank announced on Friday that all cryptocurrency-related transactions are illegal.
“Virtual currency-related business activities are illegal financial activities,” the People’s Bank of China said, adding that cryptocurrency “seriously endangers the safety of people’s assets.”
In 2019, China officially banned crypto trading through its domestic exchanges as a way to suppress money laundering, but since then, it has also worked to restrict people in the country from continuing to trade using online foreign exchanges.
In May, China barred banks and other financial institutions from providing crypto-related transaction services while warning traders that it would not protect them against speculative trading.
The following month, the province of Sichuan banned crypto mining, which in turn lead to some miners leaving the country. To prove it was serious on its crackdowns, the People’s Bank even ordered one company to shut down in July due to suspicions that it was “providing software services for virtual currency transactions.”
China’s new decree fully outlaws all online foreign exchanges from offering services in the country. Further, anyone in China who participates in crypto-related activities will be prosecuted.
The country will also now gradually phase out domestic mining operations, and from this point forward, it will no longer allow new operations to pop up. Between Sept. 2019 and April this year, China fell from accounting for 76% of the world’s Bitcoin energy use to 46%.
Crypto Fears Induce Sell-Off
Major digital currencies such as Bitcoin and ether tumbled after China’s latest decision.
On Friday, Bitcoin, which has never been a stranger to volatility, fell from a 24-hour high of $45,000 to a 24-hour low of $40,800. Meanwhile, ether, the world’s second-largest virtual coin, fell from nearly $3,200 to below $2,800 within the same time frame.
Still, many analysts expect the sell-offs to be short-term given that additional crypto crackdowns by China were already expected.
Many crypto holders in the country are also worried that their investments will now be forever frozen by China.
“I have already received over a dozen messages – email, phone and encrypted app – from Chinese crypto holders looking for solutions on how to access and protect their crypto holdings in foreign exchanges and cold wallets,” David Lesperance, a Toronto-based attorney who works in the international crypto trading sphere, told CNBC on Friday.
“Along with not being able to do anything with an extremely volatile asset, my suspicion is that… the Chinese government will ‘offer’ them in the future to convert it to e-yuan at a fixed market price,” he added.
Currently, China is one of many countries which has announced plans to develop and launch a digital version of its currency.
NY Gov. Says State Will Seek To Replace Some Unvaccinated Staff With Foreign Workers
The effort is aimed at addressing job shortages in the healthcare industry, which will only become worse next week when medical facilities in the state can begin terminating unvaccinated workers.
NY To Terminate Unvaxxed Medical Staff
Starting Monday, medical facilities in New York state will be allowed to terminate any healthcare workers who haven’t already received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.
According to data compiled by the state’s Health Department, 19% of hospital workers and 18% of nursing home workers were unvaccinated as of Sept. 15.
Given that nearly one in five people in the state’s healthcare workforce are unvaccinated, mass terminations could exacerbate problems in a field that is already struggling with job shortages.
Because of that, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who assumed the position last month following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, said New York is currently “reaching out to the Department of State to find out about visas for foreign workers, on a limited basis, to bring more nurses over here.”
Hochul added that the state is also “working closely with various hospital systems to find out where we can get other individuals to come in and supplement places like nursing homes.”
For now, a clear answer seems uncertain as New York tries to navigate the difficult task of ensuring that healthcare facilities are adequately staffed while also not allowing unvaccinated workers to potentially spread COVID.
Staffers who claim religious exemptions to the vaccine will be able to avoid the deadline and continue working until at least Oct.12, but it’s also possible that their formal challenge could fail in court after that day. Many of those bucking against the requirement are Catholic and oppose the use of “aborted fetal cell lines” that helped develop the vaccine, despite the U.S. Conference of Bishops and Pope Francis both endorsing the vaccine.
Medical Facilities Fear Shutting Down Over Employee Shortages
Employee shortages have been hitting every sector of the workforce in recent months, but one area where shortages are proving to be particularly disastrous is healthcare.
According to data published this month by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, “86% of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers [surveyed] said their workforce situation has gotten worse over the last three months.” Around 50% of both types of facilities indicated that staffing issues have gotten “much worse.”
The same survey found that “nearly every nursing home (99%) and assisted living community (96%)” in the country is currently facing a staffing shortage, which is leading to nearly all workers taking on overtime or extra shifts. As a result, many facilities have had to limit admissions.
Perhaps even more concerning is that 78% of nursing homes and 71% of assisted living communities are worried these shortages might force them to close.
Around 70% of both types of facilities said they believe the staffing shortages are due to a lack of interested or qualified candidates, coupled with unemployment benefits discouraging people from work. The next greatest cause of the shortages was the loss of staffers due to vaccination requirements, which was indicated by about 40% of respondents.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (New York Post) (ABC Rochester)
Couple Kicked Out of Texas Restaurant for Wearing Masks Out of Concern for Immunocompromised Son
While the pair has been met with widespread support online, they’ve also had to defend themselves from critics who slammed them for going out to a restaurant in the first place.
Texas Restaurant Sparks Outrage With Face Mask Ban
A couple in Texas said they were forced to leave Hang Time Bar & Grill earlier this month after refusing to comply with the owner’s ban on face masks.
Natalie Wester and her husband Jose Lopez-Guerrero went out to meet friends at the restaurant in Rowlett on Sept. 10. They told NBC’s TODAY this was a rare date night for them since they are new parents to a four-month boy who has cystic fibrosis.
The pair wore their masks out in public to be as safe as possible with their son in mind as he stayed home with his grandmother that night.
According to a Facebook post from Wester, they were immediately asked to take down their face coverings when entering the restaurant. Because the music was loud, they assumed it was related to staff checking their IDs, so they put their masks back on and went to order. After ordering, Wester said a waitress came over to tell her, “Our manager sent me over because I’m nicer than he is. And yes, this is political.“
“She then told me that masks are not allowed in their building, and they can make the rules because they are [a] private business,” Wester wrote in her post. “She said that the mask ‘doesn’t work, is like using a chain-link fence to keep out mosquitoes, and doesn’t give people enough oxygen.'”
Wester allegedly explained that they were wearing masks out of concern for their immunocompromised baby at home. However, she was reportedly told there was no other option and that they would have to close out their tab if they didn’t comply.
Because the couple didn’t want to make a scene or ruin their friends’ night, they decided to go home and wrote about their experience on Facebook, which they also left as a review on the restaurant’s page. It, of course, went viral.
Owner Stands by Policy
Since then, the owner of the restaurant, Thomas Blackmer, has admitted on Facebook and to reporters that he doesn’t allow masks inside his business.
He told The Washington Post that he implemented the ban in April because he doesn’t think masks stop COVID from spreading and believes criminals can use them to get away with a robbery, theft, or vandalism in a place where his two adult children work.
“I’m not doing things that put them at risk,” he added.
He has also reportedly shared anti-vax and anti-mask content on social media.
After news of this incident spread, Blackner was was hit with a flood of backlash both over the phone and online. He claims he even had to move from his Dallas apartment into one he’d already rented but hadn’t moved to after he was doxxed on Twitter.
Still, he is not backing down on his stance. “This is right,” he told The Post, “and if we don’t have a business next week, we’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, the couple at the center of this story has also faced backlash from people who asked why they went out in the first place. Many are digging through their social media posts to call them out about any other times they were spotted without a mask or at a large gathering.
For example, strangers found a photo of Wester not wearing a mask in August while taking her mom to see a Chris Stapleton concert. Wester told The Post she wore a mask inside the venue until they got to their seats and decided to take some pictures.
The couple has also responded by noting that their son’s doctors have encouraged them to still live their lives, telling TODAY that they “just advised us to be a little extra cautious when we’re going out and use our brains and make decisions as we feel appropriate, and that’s why we left.”
Wester additionally argued that photos of her without masks or at events don’t negate any part of their experience at this specific establishment.
“Tom has stated that he does not care for masks nor believes that they work,” she told The Post. “I am confused why me wearing one (or not wearing one) in any setting would matter to them?”