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Mayor Wu: vaccine mandates for city workers, businesses, not meant to ‘punish’ people

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu addresses members of the media gathered at a press conference at City Hall on Jan. 10, 2022.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu said Friday that Boston’s proof of vaccine requirement taking effect Saturday for certain businesses is meant to protect public health, stressing that that policy and a separate vaccine mandate for city workers aren’t intended “to punish anyone.”

Wu made the comments during an appearance on the “Notorious In The Morning” program on 87.7 FM.

“It’s not about grocery stores at all,” Wu said of the proof of vaccine requirement for businesses such as dine-in restaurants, gyms, clubs, and theaters. “It’s not about just walking around on the street or in your house.”

Rather, she said, public health concerns are guiding the city’s decision making on indoor public spaces where people congregate in close quarters for lengthy stretches.

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“This is about protecting people when you go into indoor spaces, where you’re going to be for a long time” and potentially remove your mask to eat or drink, Wu said. “When it first starts it’s just proof of one dose. In the city of Boston, 80 percent of our residents have one dose. We really want to get that number up.”

Wu also encouraged the unvaccinated to get their first shot as soon as possible.

“There’s clinics all throughout the week,” she said. “I’m going to be stopping by one tomorrow also. And there’s lots of opportunities to make sure that [you] get your kids vaccinated, get yourself vaccinated, boosted. It makes a difference.”

The mayor recalled a recent trip to a busy hospital where staffers were treating a glut of unvaccinated patients.

“I was at the hospital last week visiting Tufts Medical Center, and right before my eyes in the intensive care unit, in emergency departments, all those doctors [were] saying, ‘look at this list of patients on the board,’” Wu said. “Ninety percent of them who are here, who are on ventilators, who are fighting for their lives, 90 percent of the them are unvaccinated.”

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The mayor also discussed the requirement kicking in Saturday for city workers to be vaccinated.

As of Saturday, municipal workers must “demonstrate proof of one dose of vaccination,” Wu said. City workers have until Feb. 15 to get their second dose.

“We’ve been running clinics all week as well, focused on making sure city workers can get vaccinated,” Wu said. “And we’re at almost 90 percent” compliance.

The city worker mandate has prompted fierce protests from groups opposed, who’ve loudly demonstrated at City Hall, outside a police station, and outside the mayor’s home. The protests have included profane, racist, and misogynistic rhetoric.

Asked Friday on the radio program when noncompliant workers will be fired, and when the city’s police force will diversify its ranks, Wu offered up a measured response.

“This is not meant to be something that’s [meant] to punish anyone,” Wu said. “Whether it’s about getting into restaurants or working for the city, right? ... We need to make sure our city workforce reflects everyone. And there’s a lot, a lot of work to do there.”

Last week, she said, the police academy graduation showed the city is moving in the right direction.

“It looked like Boston,” Wu said. “There were five or six Cape Verdean officers, there were several Asian American officers. I was personally passing out the badges to each one as they came up. ... It was actually pretty incredible to be in that moment.”

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.