Omicron Variant

NYC Shares Details, Exceptions for Private-Sector Vax Mandate; State COVID Rates Soar

Statewide, New York recorded 71 new COVID deaths, the highest daily toll in well more than half a year, 3,784 hospitalizations (highest total since April 19) and 12,944 new COVID cases (the highest total since late January)

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What to Know

  • NYC has released more complete guidance around its looming vaccine mandate for its entire private-sector workforce; the changes start on Dec. 27 and are part of an overarching expansion that affects Key2NYC
  • The new rules require extensive tracking and documentation of employee data by private businesses and the city launched a new webpage ( to warehouse the information
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the mandate expansion is necessary to combat the triple COVID threat of omicron's emergence, delta's severity and potential spikes related to holiday gatherings and travel

City Hall released comprehensive guidelines Wednesday on the looming private-sector vaccine mandate set to take effect later this month, a strictest-in-the-nation order Mayor Bill de Blasio has called a preemptive strike against the triple COVID threat posed by omicron's emergence, delta's severity and the holiday season.

Starting Dec. 27, all private-sector workers who have not filed for reasonable accommodations must provide proof of full vaccination or at least one dose to their employers. If an employee is not fully vaccinated, the individual must submit the date by which proof of the second dose will be provided. That date must be within 45 days of the date they submitted proof of their first dose, according to the city.

See the most frequently asked questions and answers on the mandate here.

All employers will keep a record of each worker's proof and the exemption requests and should be prepared to make their records available for inspection. Options for how to do that are listed on a new dedicated website the city launched Wednesday. Those who do file for exemption may keep working while their claims are processed, de Blasio says. But those requests must be filed prior to Dec. 27.

Businesses must complete a certificate affirming they are in compliance with the new vaccine mandate when it takes effect on Dec. 27 (see the affirmation document here). They must also post an official Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sign in an obvious location that outlines the new rules to employees.

Non-employee staff like contractors must provide vaccination proof to their respective employers. Businesses may request that a contractor’s employer confirm proof of vaccination, according to the city's guidelines. Businesses must then keep a log of these requests and the confirmations they receive, officials said.

There are limited exceptions to the private-sector mandate, de Blasio said:

  • People who work alone — at home or otherwise — and do not have in-person contact with co-workers or others in the course of their business
  • People who enter a workplace briefly for a limited purpose, such as to use the bathroom
  • Non-NYC resident performing artists, college or professional athletes, and anyone who accompanies them
  • People who have requested reasonable accommodations for medical or religious reasons. If a worker is granted a reasonable accommodation, businesses must record the basis for the accommodation and keep supporting documentation in accordance with guidance found on this page

The upcoming expansion to New York City's entire private workforce is part of an overarching and controversial plan that also includes new Key2NYC requirements for kids and ups required dose proof from one to two for anyone aged 12 and up.

"This is the boldest action in the nation. It is very, very consistent with what we're dealing with right now because we have powerful new threats. We have to answer them," de Blasio said Wednesday, echoing with increasing urgency his rationale for a series of new COVID measures these last few months. "We cannot be too late to omicron. This new variant moves fast. We have to move faster."

Noncompliance with the looming mandate comes with fines up to $1,000 per violation and escalating penalties thereafter if violations persist. The city's goal, though, is to educate and work with businesses to help them comply with the order.

"It's always our preference to ensure compliance and to avoid fines and penalties," City Hall says. De Blasio says that approach has overwhelmingly worked so far.

For the city's workforce, noncompliance with the vaccine mandate in the absence of an approved exemption comes with unpaid leave. Some smaller private businesses may not have that capacity, de Blasio acknowledged, which is why his team has spent the last nine days trying to work through the challenges with them.

The mayor said Wednesday his administration and its various agencies have met with 77 business improvement districts citywide since announcing the planned expansion, with all five borough chambers of commerce and other stakeholders to try to finesse the approach to support both public health and business interests.

Regardless, de Blasio is expected to face some backlash from businesses of all sizes over various elements of his vaccine mandate expansion, which will take effect two days after Christmas. For small businesses, some of the complaints have been around workforce size. If they don't have the staffing depth to put non-vaccine compliant employees on leave, some wonder how they can enforce the order.

The detailed policies released Wednesday didn't specifically address the challenges for small businesses. The city's website says only, "Small businesses that would like help with this requirement can call the NYC Department of Small Business Services hotline at 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692)."

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced major new expansions to the vaccine mandate, on Monday. Andrew Siff reports.

In other cases, larger businesses fear the loss of much-needed holiday revenue. The organization that represents the city's restaurant industry expressed concern about the proof of two vaccine doses kids aged 12 and up will have to provide to go indoors. It appears the second dose would have had to have been at least two weeks prior to entry, though that component has been confusing to some already.

The order will likely encounter some legal challenges, too, as de Blasio's other vaccine mandates have done. He and his top legal advisers, though, feel confident this one will also survive the court system. His corporate counsel laid out the reasoning for that when the mayor first introduced the new mandate last week.

Even with the specific guidance shared Wednesday, businesses across the city don't have much time to figure out the best way for them to implement the new regulations and minimize potential fallout. Also still unclear: Whether Mayor-elect Eric Adams will continue the order when he takes office days after it takes effect.

De Blasio has repeatedly insisted that the city's rising vaccination rate is proof vaccine mandates work -- and he claims they're needed to protect the one-time U.S. epicenter of the pandemic from further economic and human loss this winter.

It comes amid an omicron-fueled COVID case surge that has seen citywide weekly COVID averages soar 41% over the averages for the prior four weeks and a delta-driven spike in hospitalizations that is prompting drastic new action by the state.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's new mask-or-vaccine order took effect Monday amid what she described as an alarming jump in across-the-board COVID metrics. Local health departments are tasked with enforcing the measure, which is set to be reevaluated on Jan. 15. De Blasio has publicly supported Hochul's order, while a number of Republican county executives in other parts of the state vowed not to enforce it.

At least one such incoming executive for Long Island's Nassau County flatly said he wouldn't enforce the order because "we're not in crisis. It's not necessary here."

New Yorkers are supposed to mask up whenever they're inside public places for the next month, in accordance with an order from Gov. Kathy Hochul. Except the incoming commissioner of Nassau County says he's not going to enforce it. Gaby Acevedo.

Hochul strongly disagrees. Asked a day ago why she didn't take a more targeted community or ZIP code approach to the newly imposed restrictions, the governor said the latest COVID increases are affecting virtually the entire state.

The state COVID case rate per 100,000 residents is up 58% since Thanksgiving, Hochul said Tuesday, marking an increase from 43% in just the last week. The hospitalization metric is even more jarring: That rate per 100,000 residents is up 70% since Thanksgiving, Hochul said. On Friday, it was up 59%.

Total hospitalizations are on the verge of surpassing 3,800 for the first time since April 19 and are up 97% since Nov. 1. Daily death tolls are soaring to more than half-year highs, with Hochul adding another 71 to the mounting toll Wednesday.

New York isn't alone in experiencing what Hochul described as a full-on holiday surge. A number of states, California among the latest, have reimposed mask or vaccination (or both) mandates in hopes of stemming the winter COVID tide.

While omicron isn't thought to lead to more severe cases, like delta, it has been increasing infections at a rate the World Health Organization says no other variant has done over the course of this pandemic. The sheer number of cases alone could overwhelm unprepared hospitals, the director of the organization said.

New data from Pfizer shows its vaccine is 70% effective at preventing omicron-related hospitalizations but 33% effective at preventing new omicron infections.

New York and New Jersey are both detecting the new variant at a rate four times the pace of the national average, according to the CDC. One top U.S. virologist said Tuesday omicron is expected to overtake delta as the dominant strain within weeks.

As Dr. Robert Redfield put it, "We're in for a rough couple months."

New York is rolling out a series o new measures to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Andrew Siff reports on the latest efforts.
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