What to Know
- Starting Dec. 27, NYC's vaccine mandate will expand to all private-sector workers, a move Mayor Bill de Blasio called the first of its kind in the nation as he announced the looming changes on Monday
- The mandate is tightening in other ways, too: proof of two doses rather than one will be required, and kids aged 5 to 11, will have to show proof of one for indoor dining and other activities starting on Dec. 14
- While some people raced to get in line for shots after the announcement, a number of business leaders hedged; they say they feel blindsided and want it delayed until Eric Adams takes office
A surge of people -- from adults who work in the private sector to little kids -- who had been holding off on getting COVID-19 vaccinations for whatever reason started lining up for shots Monday, hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the nation's strictest vaccine mandate would take effect in New York City in a matter of weeks.
At the same time, a number of business leaders, including advocacy groups that represent tens of thousands of small businesses in the five boroughs, pushed back, saying the mayor shouldn't implement such an all-encompassing and controversial policy in his last days in office. If he does, they fear holiday tourism will suffer.
The expansions described by the Democrat mandate vaccinations for the entire private-sector workforce (the municipal workforce has been under the mandate for some time), boost required dose proof to two rather than one and add children aged 5 to 11 to the list of people who need to show proof when dining indoors, attending entertainment events, going to fitness clubs or other activities.
Kids in that age group need only show proof of one dose starting Dec. 14. Anyone age 12 and older will have to show proof of two doses (unless they got the Johnson & Johnson single-dose regimen) starting Dec. 27, which is also when the private-sector mandate kicks in. The city is expected to release detailed guidelines for small businesses on that front next week.
Meanwhile, the announcement has already had some impact.
Dionysus Prendes of the Bronx says he was motivated by the expansion of the mandate to all New York City private-sector workers, which affects 184,000 businesses starting Dec. 27, to get the shot.
"I was trying to avoid it a little bit because of health conditions. I don't have anything too crazy, just something with my heart. I got the shot and honestly, I didn't feel anything," Prendes said.
Andrea Caraballo, 8, also got her first dose on Monday. She says it hurt a little bit but she now feels "really safe." She's one of 47% of New York City kids aged 5 to 17 who have at least one vaccine dose. Just 36% of that group is fully inoculated.
De Blasio had hinted late last week that changes to the city's vaccine policies could be coming soon, given the latest challenges posed in the city's ongoing COVID war. He says more measures may be imminent as far as vaccinations go, too.
While nearly 82% of New York City adults are fully vaccinated, business leaders say they feel unprepared and some say they plan to take the issue to court.
The idea isn't to penalize, though some consequences are necessary, de Blasio says. So far, most businesses, particularly restaurants, have complied with the various Key2NYC requirements. About 4,100 warnings have been issued since that element of the program started, the mayor's office said Tuesday, but just 31 second violations, which come with $1,000 fines, have been issued. That's out of nearly 52,000 complete inspections and almost 100,000 partial inspections.
Some industry leaders say they feel blindsided, while others say the timing isn't fair, with the height of the holiday season approaching -- and they want the mandate delayed until Mayor-Elect Eric Adams takes office on Jan. 1. A spokesman for him said Monday he will review the mandate and make his own decision, but at this point, the mandate is expected to be a go for the duration of de Blasio's term.
The mayor says it's necessary to combat the triple threat of the omicron variant's emergence, the ongoing danger posed by delta and holiday-related COVID spikes. Others aren't so sure.
"Airlines are packed. Restaurants are packed. Is this an emergency? Or is it a problem? There's a difference and I think the courts are going to have to decide that," said Lou Gelormino, an attorney who represented the Staten Island bar that defied the city's lockdown rules back in December 2020.
U.S. appeals courts blocked President Joe Biden's sweeping vaccine-or-test mandate for all private employers with at least 100 employees last month -- and another federal court blocked his mandate for contractors on Tuesday. So it remains to be seen whether de Blasio's new mandate will survive local courts -- though the administration appears confident it will prevail as earlier versions have.
"We’ve got omicron as a new factor. We’ve got the colder weather which is going to really create additional challenges with the delta variant, we’ve got holiday gatherings," de Blasio said as he announced the mandate. "We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the dangers it’s causing to all of us."
While the emergence of the omicron variant has flooded headlines for the last two weeks, the still-omnipresent delta strain is the one driving up hospitalizations across the United States, health officials say. The greatest risk omicron poses is to the unvaccinated, who keep spreading the virus, an ex-White House advisor says.
In New York City, the rolling daily COVID case average is up 37% compared with the daily average for the prior four weeks. Hospitalizations are stable, as are confirmed COVID deaths, which are far more critical barometers for officials than infections.
It's not clear how much of the COVID case uptick could be linked to omicron -- delta still accounts for 98% of all positive New York City samples that are genetically sequenced and that's the variant driving up the severe case rate across the U.S.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced four new omicron cases across the state Monday, bringing the total to 12. None of the additions were in New York City, which has seven confirmed cases and likely many more that haven't yet been detected.
De Blasio said Monday he had spoken with Hochul ahead of his vaccine mandate update but neither he nor she has provided any indication as to whether she would follow suit at the state level. Given how the situation has played out so far, and the varying factors at play across the state vs. New York City, it seems unlikely.
The two Democrats jointly announced the first confirmed cases of the newest variant last week, hours after news broke that a vaccinated Minnesota man who attended the two-day Anime NYC convention at the Javits Center a few weeks ago got COVID and testing showed it was omicron.