Nursing home staff gets vaccinated. (Ronni Newton / photo)

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz signed an executive order Friday that mandates all long-term care staff get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The measure, which was anticipated, will require all staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities to receive their first dose by Sept. 7. If they don’t comply they will be subject to a $20,000 civil penalty. 

“Now that vaccines are widely available and scientifically proven to be safe and the most effective method for preventing hospitalization and death, it would be absolutely irresponsible for anyone working in a long-term care facility to not receive this protection that could prevent widespread infection among those who are most vulnerable from dying of this communicable disease, some of whom for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated themselves,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.

Bysiewicz signed the order at the governor’s request.

The governor said that one-third of coronavirus deaths in the United States have happened among residents and staff of long-term care facilities. 

The Delta variant and its ability to impact even those who are vaccinated played a role in the decision. Connecticut recently saw an outbreak at an assisted living facility in Wallingford where all staff were mandated to be vaccinated by June 30. 

In the past three weeks, there have been 51 resident cases, a sharp increase compared to the 6 cases reported over the previous three-week period. There have also been several deaths in recent weeks of residents who tested positive for COVID-19, which followed a period of 7 consecutive weeks without a death relating to COVID-19.

The measure has received support of the association representing homes in Connecticut. 

“Connecticut nursing homes support the governor’s staff vaccination mandate policy,” said Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/ Connecticut Center for Assisted Living. “When implemented on a wide scale, the staff vaccine mandate will provide maximum protection for all residents, staff and others in our communities from the known and substantial risks of COVID-19.”

“For these reasons, we believe the staff vaccine mandate should apply beyond nursing homes to cover other health care providers serving populations vulnerable to the virus, such as hospitals, assisted living communities, and home health care,” he added.

The union that represents some nursing home workers in the state has not weighed in on the issue.

“We continue to encourage and educate our members to get vaccinated as soon as possible based on the advice of experts,” Pedro Zayas, SEIU District 1199, said earlier this week.

To date, approximately 55% of all nursing homes in Connecticut have a staff vaccination rate of lower than 75%. Only 21% of nursing homes in the state have a staff vaccination rate higher than 85%.