NYC Pitches Free Vaccines for Tourists in Bid to Expedite Post-Pandemic Recovery

Broadway shows just started selling tickets for a 100% fall reopening of the stage -- but how many theaters will fill?

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What to Know

  • New York City hopes to begin offering coronavirus shots to tourists by stationing vaccination vans at Times Square and other attractions, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday
  • The mayor says the state needs to modify rules around vaccination a bit to approve administering shots to non-New Yorkers who don't work here, but said his team was working with Gov. Cuomo's administration to get it done
  • The push to vaccinate tourists comes as the city looks to recover about $60 billion worth of economic contributions from tourism, according to state estimates, which the state hopes will be aided by Broadway's return in the fall

New York City wants to roll out mobile vaccination sites for visiting tourists as the five boroughs look to revive their vibrancy post-pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio says.

De Blasio described the program, which would target tourists with free Johnson & Johnson doses at popular attractions, leaving them fully vaccinated (though not yet immune) to enjoy their stay in the city and reap the benefit of convenience.

The mayor says the state needs to modify the rules around vaccination a bit to approve the administering of shots to non-New Yorkers who don't work here, but he said his team was working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration to get it done.

De Blasio says the mobile vans are ready to roll out as early as this weekend at spots ranging from the Empire State Building and Times Square to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the High Line and Central Park, among others, pending the state's green light.

"This is a positive message to tourists. Come here, it's safe, it's a great safe to be and we're gonna take care of you," de Blasio said. "We're going to make sure you get vaccinated while you're here with us."

Tourism took a gigantic hit during the pandemic. But for the first time, we're getting a clear look at how much it's fallen off in the last year. John Chandler reports.

There was no immediate word from the state Thursday on whether the pitch would be approved. The state Health Department said it hadn't yet received a formal plan to review.

“It’s a show of goodwill. It’s a welcome,” de Blasio added. He said the city has no plans to track tourists' vaccination status.

Under another plan announced Thursday, tourists and New Yorkers alike could see some new artwork and performances in public spaces. De Blasio said the city would spend $25 million to hire over 1,500 artists and performers for an “Artists Corps” that would create murals, pop-up shows and other works. Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals said details would be announced later.

The push to vaccinate tourists also comes as the city looks to recover about $60 billion worth of economic contributions from tourism, according to state estimates and bring back nearly 90,000 industry jobs that were lost at the same time. Much of the city's revenue relies on out-of-town traffic, and that could get another boost soon, too.

A handful of Broadway productions resumed ticket sales early Thursday after Cuomo greenlit a full capacity reopening of the Great White Way by mid-September, while others, including some of the most iconic shows, are expected to join soon.

See our rolling list here. Some smaller productions may need more time to get their scheduling in order after the year-plus shutdown.

Broadway first suspended shows on March 12, 2020, as the city -- and nation -- reeled from the pandemic. At that time, 31 productions were running, including eight new shows in previews. Another eight were preparing to open in the spring.

Broadway tickets go on sale May 6, and performances can start at full capacity Sept. 14. Meanwhile, both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field will soon have two sections for fans — one for those fully vaccinated, and another for those who are not. NBC New York's Andrew Siff and Bruce Beck report.

It's not clear how many of the shows in previews or rehearsals will still be able to make their debuts. Refunds and exchange policies will be in place if any given performance has to be postponed suddenly because of a public health condition.

There will also likely be changes to the theater-going experience like the addition of contactless services, said Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin.

"Broadway’s back. New York City’s back. Get ready," Mayor de Blasio tweeted just before ticket sales opened up early Thursday.

Prior to the pandemic, nearly 250,000 people were seeing a Broadway show every week.

Broadway will fully reopen its doors this September, welcoming theater-goers from the city and all over the world once again for the first time in 18 months as New York charges forward in its unprecedented pandemic recovery, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

It's not clear how quickly the seats will be filled to full capacity again as an anxious public looks to restore some semblance of normalcy to its collective post-pandemic life. But the Broadway League has said it eagerly anticipates reopening as much as millions upon millions of global fans look forward to getting back to its iconic stage.

While productions, theaters and attendees must adhere to state health guidance like masks and air filtration, Cuomo said theaters (and theater-goers) will be flexible to potential changes as New York's COVID situation -- and that of the country -- improves.

"It's going to cost millions to get a show up. I will be curious to see who will take that chance," said musical producer Glen Kelly, who has worked on shows like "Book of Mormon" and "Aladdin."

But Kelly, like other theater workers who have waited more than a year to get back to the stage, has some lingering questions.

"I hear about vaccination passports. No one seems to know how that would work," Kelly added. "No one seems to know are the audiences in masks? Is the backstage staff in masks? Do the performers wear masks and take them off before they come on stage?"

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

Cuomo said the state doesn't have the authority to require attendees to be vaccinated before attending a Broadway show, but individual theaters can choose to mandate that on their own. (And they can use the state's Excelsior Pass to confirm vaccinations.)

Well before theaters fully reopen in the fall, New York will begin to pilot reduced social distancing by June 19 at large-scale indoor venues like some Broadway theaters in assigned, seated sections designated for those who are fully vaccinated, Cuomo said.

That approach is the crux of Cuomo's new plan to allow full capacity at large outdoor venues -- like the Yankees' and Mets' stadiums as well as performing arts arenas -- in dedicated sections for fully vaccinated fans. There's no set limit to capacity for non-vaccinated outdoor seating areas except the ongoing social distancing requirement, which Cuomo estimates to be around 33% (30% for large indoor venues).

The governor announced that tweak to the reopening plan for May 19 on Wednesday. The Yankees and Mets will also offer on-site vaccinations and give a free ticket to an upcoming game to anyone who takes advantage before another game. Kids who aren't yet vaccine-eligible can still sit with a vaccinated adult, but if they're age 4 or older they must present proof of a negative COVID test. Previously, that bar was set at 2 and up.

Wednesday's announcement came two days after Cuomo unveiled a coordinated tri-state reopening plan to lift nearly all remaining business restrictions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut beginning May 19. Indoor masks and social distancing will remain the norm in New York and New Jersey for now, though the governors have both states have said they will reassess the latter rule if the CDC changes its guidance.

This week's announcements mark the single most significant step in fully reopening New York, which Cuomo said could happen within the next two months if the pace of vaccinations stays on track, meaning, "literally, everything back to normal."

Smaller steps on that path continue this week. The one-time epicenter of the pandemic inched closer to bringing its vibrant nightlife scene back as bar seating returned to New York City Monday, while 24/7 subway service will be restored on May 17.

Come Friday, indoor dining capacity in the city goes to 75% -- the highest limit Cuomo has allowed since first shuttering restaurants entirely as COVID seized the city last spring. In a matter of weeks, longstanding statewide curfews on restaurant and catering services will evaporate as well.

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