ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — More than 100 people gathered outside of Strong Memorial Hospital on Monday to protest a vaccine mandate for local hospital workers.

Parents, teachers, and healthcare workers made their voices heard, calling for individual choice when it comes to getting vaccinated. Many protestors chanted “no more mandate” and “our body, our choice,” while holding signs.

“We are going to keep doing this. We are going to keep going out and we will fight for the individual to get the vaccine, as long as they have true consent and they understand what’s happening,” said Merle McDonald, an RN at Highland Hospital and one of the event’s organizers.

McDonald said she isn’t against getting the vaccine, but she wants people to be able to choose for themselves.

“We need to let Rochester know, we need to let the country know, we need to let the state know, that we are individuals with our own freedom. That’s what makes America great, we can all be here, you can have someone across the street that completely disagrees with us and we would all be marching and saying what we think and that’s what’s great about our country, that’s why so many people want to get here,” McDonald said.

Another protestor named Laurie said healthcare workers shouldn’t have to live in fear of losing their jobs if they choose not to get vaccinated.

“Our healthcare workers are in fear of even coming out and protesting. I have friends that are afraid of losing their jobs. You should never have to live in fear for losing your job because of what you feel,” she said.

Stewart Bailey, who was also at Monday’s protest, said he believes people should have more freedom when it comes to their bodies.

“If people want to get the jab, they have their choice, they have their choice. But for those others who are informed otherwise, no, no. This is our lives, our body, our choice. This is America, freedom,” Bailey said.

In his briefing last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York will mandate COVID-19 vaccination for state employees and patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals. The governor said state employees will have the option to test regularly instead, while the health care workers will not.

In his briefing on Monday, the governor encouraged private hospitals to adopt similar policies.

“If you are a receiving nurse, or receiving doctor, and people are coming in from the public, and you’re dealing with dozens of people, you should be vaccinated — or don’t work in a frontline position. We put this in place, it is controversial, we believe in it. I understand the controversy, but it smart and I believe it could be extended, but legally I can only do it for our own hospitals.”

Employees for Rochester’s primary health care providers will have to be vaccinated by September 8, or undergo regular COVID-19 testing, officials announced Monday.

In line with New York’s vaccine mandate for state employees, and patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals, employees of Monroe Community Hospital, the Monroe County Department of Public Health, Rochester Regional Health, URMC, the University of Rochester and UR Medicine affiliates will need to be vaccinated by Wednesday, September 8, or undergo frequent regular COVID testing.

The September 8 target date is two days after the state’s mandate which is effective on Labor Day, September 6.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and have proven to protect people from serious illness and death even in the instances vaccinated individuals contract COVID-19. We must remain vigilant against the virus, particularly in health care settings as we continue to see increasing new daily positive cases here in Monroe County and across the state. This is good public health policy and will further protect our community from additional spread of COVID-19,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. 

While details vary slightly at each employer, Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mendoza said “all have agreed on a common approach to ensuring a safe environment for staff members and the people they serve,” including:

  • Employees will be required to document their COVID vaccine status–vaccinated, choosing not to be vaccinated, approved medical exemption or approved religious exemption
  • Soon after September 8, unvaccinated employees will be required to undergo frequent regular COVID testing, to wear masks indoors and practice social distancing at work
  • Employees who decline to report their status or to undergo testing will face disciplinary consequences
  • Employees vaccinated after September 8 can be released from the testing, masking, and distancing requirements once their fully vaccinated status is documented with the employer

“Our primary responsibility is to protect the health and safety of our community, and science shows us that getting vaccinated is the most important step we can take at this stage of the pandemic,” said Dr. Mendoza. “The vaccines are safe and effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19, and they are the key to eradicating this threat once and for all.”

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Monroe County among several New York counties with “substantial” COVID-19 transmission.

The CDC’s reporting comes days after it recommended areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Monroe County has yet to announce what changes, if any, will go into effect for the area.

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.