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9,000 Unvaccinated N.Y.C. Workers Put on Unpaid Leave as Mandate Begins

Mr. de Blasio said that response times for emergencies remained normal.

Though city agencies reported little strain on Monday, worker shortages could emerge in the coming weeks. About 12,000 city workers — roughly half of whom work for the Police Department — have applied for religious or medical exemptions. Pending a decision, they are allowed to keep working, so long as they provide a weekly negative Covid-19 test.

The Equal Employment Opportunity officer at each agency is tasked with making a decision about each exemption. The guidelines are likely to be strict, city officials have said.

For a permanent medical exemption, a severe allergy to the vaccine or one of its components is one of the few qualifying criteria, according to a city F.A.Q. on the vaccine mandate. For temporary medical exemptions, reasons include: a Covid-19 infection within the last two weeks; recent treatment with monoclonal antibodies; stem cell or other treatment that suppresses the immune system; or heart inflammation such as myocarditis.

For religious exemptions, city guidelines state that a “sincerely held religious, moral or ethical belief may be a basis for a religious accommodation,” but in practice criteria are expected to be very narrow. An employee who objects, for example, to the use of fetal cell lines in vaccine development or production may be asked to show they have refused other vaccines or medications on the same grounds.

No major religion has barred its faithful from taking the Covid-19 vaccine.

In September, the city agreed in an arbitration with the teachers’ union to consider religious exemptions only for staff members who belonged to an organized religion with a known objection to vaccination, such as Christian Science, supported by a note from clergy. That may serve as a guide for these judgments.

The Department of Education said Monday that less than 1 percent of its 150,000-member work force had been granted exemptions — 1,100 medical exemptions, of which 670 were short term, and 150 religious exemptions.

“My understanding is there’ve been very few, if any cases, that have met the standard that the arbitrator set for the religious side,” Mr. de Blasio said on Sept. 24.

The city says it will rule on all cases and appeals by Thanksgiving.

Sean Piccoli and Precious Fondren contributed reporting.

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