New York Mayor Bill de Blasio went all-in on vaccine mandates Monday, announcing a first-in-the-nation COVID-19 requirement for the entire private sector that will take effect after Christmas and mere days before Mayor-elect Eric Adams takes over City Hall.
Mr. de Blasio said roughly 184,000 affected businesses have until Dec. 27 to implement a vaccine mandate on workers.
The city also will require proof of vaccination for 5- to 11-year-olds for indoor dining and fitness and entertainment venues, an expansion of rules on anyone 12 and older. The requirement may spark a backlash from families that decided to forgo the shots, given the lower risk of COVID-19 illness in children.
Children ages 5 to 11 must be vaccinated by Dec. 14 to participate in extracurricular activities at school such as sports, band, orchestra and dance.
“New York City will not give a single inch in the fight against COVID-19. Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” said Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who is mulling his political future after two terms as mayor.
Everyone 12 and older must show proof of two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, although one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is acceptable, to gain access to social venues as of Dec. 27. Children ages 5-11 can get a single dose to qualify.
Mr. de Blasio said he is launching a preemptive strike against COVID-19 this winter and the alarming omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is proliferating in South Africa and has reached at least 17 U.S. states.
“Omicron is here. It looks like it’s very transmissible. That’s just going to make a tough situation even harder. I mean, the timing is horrible with the winter months,” Mr. de Blasio told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We’ve got to put this COVID era behind us.”
A major business group said it was “blindsided” by the mandate and might not comply, given that President Biden put forward a more lenient rule but faced headwinds in court.
Also, the timing is awkward. Mr. de Blasio’s rules go into effect several days before Mr. Adams is sworn on Jan. 1.
Mr. Adams is on vacation in Ghana this week. Spokesman Evan Thies told The New York Times that Mr. Adams would evaluate the measure once he is mayor.
“The mayor-elect will evaluate this mandate and other COVID strategies when he is in office and make determinations based on science, efficacy and the advice of health professionals,” Mr. Thies said.
Mr. de Blasio said he gave Mr. Adams a heads-up in a meeting at Gracie Mansion before the mayor-elect left for Ghana and filled in the details in another talk before the weekend.
“We had another conversation late this Friday while he was over there. I gave him the full update on what we’re doing. Look, he has always said, he understands right now there are urgent threats facing our city, and the mayor’s job is to protect New Yorkers, and that’s my responsibility up until the very last minute,” Mr. de Blasio said. “He understands the urgency of the situation. I’ll let him speak for himself about what he thinks about each approach, but he has been tremendously clear that he respects the health care professionals and their guidance. He respects the science and what it tells us.”
Opponents of vaccine mandates criticized the mayor as power-hungry. Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, called him a “tyrant,” and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the policy was misguided.
“COVID didn’t destroy the economy. Government destroyed the economy. And now government is doubling down on its failed approach,” the Republican governor tweeted. “Mayor de Blasio is overstepping again.”
Others said minorities tend to have lower vaccination rates than Whites, so the rule might make it hard for them to stay employed.
Curtis Sliwa, the Republican who lost the mayor’s race to Mr. Adams, accused the current mayor of trying to remain politically relevant as he considers a run for governor.
“He’s like Michael Corleone on the way out, settling all scores,” Mr. Sliwa told The Washington Times. “He has opted to say, ‘Look, when it comes to most other issues, I’m a dollar short and a day late.’ He’s saying the one thing I can claim to be the best in is vaccine preparation. It’s all political.”
Mr. Sliwa said he doesn’t see how businesses will have time to comply with the private-sector mandate, forcing workers back into virtual work at home.
“We’re finally like Lazarus rising from the dead,” said Mr. Sliwa, a former radio host and founder of the Guardian Angels patrol group.
“He’s taking a Miley Cyrus-sized wrecking ball to this city.”
New York’s vaccination rate is higher than the national average, with 82% of adults fully vaccinated and 89% having received at least one dose. About 36% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, and 49% have received an initial shot.
Mr. de Blasio wants higher rates among the younger cohort.
“The vaccine is relatively new. But what we’re trying to say to parents is, ‘It’s urgent,’” he told MSNBC. “Before omicron grows, before delta continues to stress us even worse in the winter months, get your kid vaccinated.”
Mr. de Blasio’s mandate on the private sector is much broader than others across the country, which tend to focus on public workers or health care employees.
Mr. Biden issued a vaccine mandate that affects private-sector employees in large companies, though it included a testing option.
The Partnership for New York City — a major business group whose members include Bank of America, Deloitte, Macy’s and Pfizer — said it didn’t see Mr. de Blasio’s announcement coming.
“The business community was blindsided by the media leak from City Hall that there will be a vaccine mandate on the city’s private-sector employees, apparently with no testing option. Inconsistent policies at the federal, state and city levels are not helpful, and it is unclear who will enforce a mayoral mandate and whether it is even legal,” partnership President and CEO Kathryn Wylde said.
“President Biden’s vaccine mandate on employers with over 100 employees is currently held up by litigation, and it is hard to imagine that the mayor can do what the president is being challenged to accomplish. The president focused on large employers, provided a testing option for those who do not get vaccinated and allowed four months to prepare for compliance,” Ms. Wylde said.
Mr. de Blasio’s rules for children ages 5 to 11 are also distinct. Some parents have opted against the shots because they see a low risk from COVID-19 to younger people.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was the first in the nation to declare a vaccine mandate as a condition of attendance in K-12 schools but said he will wait until the vaccines are fully licensed for respective age groups.
Mr. de Blasio acknowledged that his mandate may be controversial or end up in court like Mr. Biden’s regulations, but he exuded confidence.
“We are confident because it’s universal,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I don’t know all the intricacies of what the Biden administration has been through, but I do know this: Our health commissioner has put a series of mandates in place. They have won in court, state court, federal court, every single time.”
Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said he doesn’t know how many private employers in the city have vaccine mandates but it is “surely less than half to date.”
He said the change is significant but the city is worried about omicron, a variant detected in South Africa in late November that appears to spread quickly.
The city, Mr. Caplan said, “cannot take another shutdown.”
Adam Ratner, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Grossman School, said he thinks the rules on children are reasonable. He said hundreds of minors have died during the pandemic even if they face lower risks from COVID-19 overall.
“The numbers of hospitalizations, including those requiring intensive care, are far higher than that. These outcomes are now preventable through vaccination,” he said. “Even prior to the pandemic, routine vaccinations were required for school attendance, camp attendance, participation in extracurricular activities and a host of other things. Given that we are still in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, with increasing cases — including pediatric cases — across many areas of the country, I think that encouraging vaccination for everyone who is eligible is critical.”
Mr. Sliwa said he sees practical problems with families trying to meet the requirements during a day in the city.
“They want to see a Broadway show. Now, all of a sudden, they have to make sure they have two shots,” he said, before pivoting to a hypothetical dinner. “Hey, kids, wait on the corner. Me and your mother are going to have a meal here.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.