Almost six months after a newish New York City Mayor Eric Adams told people frustrated over ongoing COVID vaccine mandates to get over it, the Democrat is officially pulling the plug on the unprecedented pandemic program -- at least as far as the private sector goes.
Adams announced Tuesday that the strictest-in-the-nation COVID vaccine requirements for private businesses --implemented by his predecessor as the South African variant fueled case and hospitalization surges across the five boroughs in his waning days in office -- will end on Nov. 1. But he said the same rule for municipal employees will stay.
"Our vaccinated workforce kept the city open and operating, with over 300,000 employees it was crucial to put it in place and we're keeping it in place," Adams said. "Our vaccinated workers have carried out their jobs and stepped up when the city needed them the most and we think it's imperative to send the right message and lead by example."
Also ending: Vaccine requirements for New York City schoolchildren to participate in sports and other higher-risk extracurricular activities, Adams said. He said 89% of New Yorkers, including children, have been vaccinated so far.
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The mayor said lifting the COVID restrictions is intended to provide schools, parents and businesses more flexibility, but the change by no means indicates the city is pulling back on encouraging booster shots and COVID vaccinations for all.
"The rollout has been important and crucial and because we've been so successful, it's time to move on to the next level of fortifying our city," Adams said as he got his own COVID booster at City Hall. "This puts the choice in the hands of New Yorkers. It's imperative we're asking them to continue to encourage their employees to get their vaccines and booster shots."
The mayor dropped the vaccine requirement for professional athletes in late March as vaccine controversy surrounded Nets' Kyrie Irving, drawing ire from businesses who cried double standard. It's not clear how many private-sector employees lost their jobs over the mandate, though, or what might happen now that it's over.
Asked directly about the municipal mandate, which led to the termination of more than 1,500 city employees, Adams says an end date is not on the radar.
Pat Lynch, the head of the Police Benevolent Association, eviscerated the mayor in a statement a short time later.
"This announcement is more proof that the vaccine mandate for New York City police officers is arbitrary, capricious, and fundamentally irrational," Lynch said. "Now that the city has abandoned any pretense of a public health justification for vaccine mandates, we expect it to settle our pending lawsuits and reinstate with back pay our members who unjustly lost their jobs."
Tuesday's developments come nearly two weeks after Gov. Kathy Hochul ended the statewide mass transit mask mandate, lifting restrictions on MTA buses and subways as well as the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road.