- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2021

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that customers must prove they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 to enjoy indoor dining, use gyms and attend public performances, making the Big Apple the first city in the nation to impose European-style rules for admission.

“This is going to be a requirement,” the Democrat said at a press conference.

Mr. de Blasio said the policy, which includes venue workers, requires people to demonstrate that they have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine.

Patrons can present federal vaccination cards or show proof on the NYC COVID SAFE app or statewide Excelsior app. He said requirements for tourists and out-of-state commuters likely will depend on the cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time of vaccination.

“This is a miraculous place literally full of wonders,” the mayor said of New York. “And, if you’re vaccinated, all that’s going to open up to you. You’ll have the key. You can open the door. But if you’re unvaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate in many things. That’s the point we’re trying to get across.”

Mr. de Blasio said he plans to use feedback and fine-tune the policy before its Aug. 16 debut. The city will start enforcing the requirement on Sept. 13.

The mayor has circled September as a pivotal month because schools will be open and many employers are hoping to reopen their offices.

New York City’s vaccination rate is 55% — higher than the national rate of 50% but below the 70% to 90% that scientists say is needed to protect the population. The mayor is worried that the fast-moving delta variant will upend the city’s push to reopen.

“You’ve got to get vaccinated,” he said. “It’s time. All the answers, all the information’s out there. You’ve seen over 160 million Americans get vaccinated safely. You’ve seen it make the difference. The only reason we’re having the recovery is vaccination.”

President Biden has signaled that he supports Mr. de Blasio‘s outline, but the plan drew scrutiny elsewhere.

The National Restaurant Association said it fully supports vaccination but is worried about front-of-house workers who will have to verify vaccination status and deal with unruly customers.

“Without training, our staff members are expected to check the vaccine status of every customer wanting to eat inside the establishment,” said Larry Lynch, the association’s senior vice president for science and industry. “Last year, when mask mandates across the country were put in place, restaurant workers suffered terrifying backlash when enforcing those rules. We hope that the city will take this into consideration and will work with us to ensure there is clear guidance and support for our workforce.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican whose district includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, said the requirement amounts to unacceptable overreach and will force business owners to play “COVID-19 police.”

“While I’m vaccinated and strongly urge others to become vaccinated, the government’s role should be to provide the science so Americans can make informed decisions for themselves,” Ms. Malliotakis said. “These mandates and precluding citizens from taking part in everyday activities are unacceptable.”

Mr. de Blasio said he is confident that the mandate will withstand legal scrutiny, even though the vaccines are authorized for emergency use and not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We got a very clear message from the U.S. Department of Justice that it was appropriate to move forward with these kinds of standards based on the existing approval,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio’s plan is akin to mandates that French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian authorities announced weeks ago. The push to close off beloved cafes and theaters persuaded millions to book vaccines but also sparked street protests.

The New York mayor said he expects the policy to be controversial but insisted it is necessary and can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

Mr. de Blasio said he focused on places that are popular but do not provide essential services. Covered venues have people in close proximity, and the virus can spread easily.

The mayor was unmoved by arguments that the mandate will make it difficult for restaurants to retain workers. He said the industry believes its employees need “one more push” to get vaccinated.

Theaters tend to draw older crowds — vaccination rates of New Yorkers older than 45 is more than 70% — but restaurant and gym mandates may lift rates among those 18 to 24 (53%) and 25 to 34 (57%).

Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to Mr. Biden, told Mr. de Blasio that many younger people don’t oppose vaccines philosophically, so the city’s policy might persuade them to get the shots.

It’s also unclear whether the targeted locations will reach enough of the minority populations in outer boroughs, where vaccination rates tend to lag, or only become a burden. 

Only 38% of Black New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. The White and Hispanic populations have rates of 53%.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the federal government is working with states and cities to ensure minority populations have equal and easy access to vaccines.

“We don’t want this to be a barrier of entry for communities,” she said. “We also believe that at a time where the delta variant is spreading like wildfire across the country, especially to unvaccinated communities, that it’s important [that] cities and communities should be able to take steps to incentivize getting more people vaccinated.”

The de Blasio administration recently said city workers must be vaccinated or face regular testing. The requirement could lift rates in places beyond relatively wealthy Manhattan, where 67% of residents are vaccinated, compared with 61% in Queens, 51% in Staten Island, 48% in Brooklyn and 46% in the Bronx.

Mr. Biden did not issue an explicit call for other cities to follow Mr. de Blasio’s lead but said he supports governments and private businesses that are finding innovative ways to compel vaccination.

“I think they just need to give the authority to those restaurants or businesses to say, ‘In order to come in, you have to prove that you’ve been vaccinated,’” Mr. Biden said in the White House East Room.

He praised Walmart, Google, Netflix, Disney and Tyson Foods for saying they will require their workers to be vaccinated by fall.

“I know this isn’t easy, but I will have their backs,” Mr. Biden said.

Singling out Florida and Texas, the president scolded states that have restricted the use of vaccine requirements.

“If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Tuesday that he has no plans to impose coronavirus restrictions or mandates because “they have not stopped the spread.”

“If it didn’t stop it before, it definitely ain’t going to stop it [with delta],” the governor said.

Florida has the highest number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, averaging over 9,700 in seven days, according to a New York Times tracker.

Forty-five out of every 100,000 residents are hospitalized for COVID-19, also the highest in the nation.

Mr. DeSantis said Florida hospitals haven’t been overrun and are “open for business” for those with other medical conditions. Despite rising COVID-19 numbers, he is optimistic that hospitalizations will level off and decline again.

“We have a summer season [of COVID-19] for whatever reason in the Sun Belt,” he said.

Mr. DeSantis scolded the media for focusing on case numbers. He noted breakthrough infections and said it is important to focus on improving medical outcomes.

“The mortality and all that data is very, very clear,” he said. “We think [vaccinating] the seniors first was the right thing to do.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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