Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday morning announced a broad coronavirus vaccine mandate for all private employers in New York City to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.
Mr de Blasio said the aggressive measure, which goes into effect on December 27 and which he described as the first of its kind in the country, was needed as a ‘preemptive strike’ to block another wave of coronavirus cases and help reduce transmission during winter months and holiday gatherings.
“Omicron is here, and it looks like it’s very transferable,” he said in an interview on MSNBC. “The timing is horrible with the winter months.”
New York City has already implemented vaccination warrants for city employees and for employees and customers of restaurants, entertainment and indoor gyms. Almost 90 percent of adult residents in New York City now have at least one dose of the vaccine.
But Mr de Blasio said the city must go further to tackle another wave of the virus in New York City, once the center of the pandemic. Some private employers have required their employees to be vaccinated, but many others have not.
De Blasio said the new measure would apply to around 184,000 businesses. Employees who work in person in private companies must have received a dose of the vaccine by December 27; teleworkers will not be required to be vaccinated. There is no testing option as an alternative.
The city plans to offer exemptions for valid medical or religious reasons, de Blasio said. City officials will issue detailed guidelines on issues such as enforcement by December 15 after consulting with business leaders.
The mayor also announced that the dining and entertainment rules would apply to children between the ages of 5 and 11, who must have a fix to enter restaurants and theaters from December 14, and that the requirement for adults would drop from one dose of vaccine. to two from December 27, with the exception of those who initially received the Johnson & Johnson single injection vaccine.
Mr de Blasio and Governor Kathy Hochul held a press conference last Thursday to announce the first five cases of the Omicron variant in New York state, and several more have been announced in New York since then. The number of coronavirus cases in the city has increased rapidly in recent weeks; the number of daily cases has increased by more than 75 percent since November 1.
Mr de Blasio, a Democrat with less than a month in power, said he was confident the new mandate would survive any legal challenges and noted that the city’s past mandates had been honored.
“They won in court – state court, federal court – every time,” the mayor said on MSNBC. “And that is because they are universal and consistent.”
Eric Adams, the mayor-elect who takes office on January 1, is on vacation in Ghana this week. His spokesman, Evan Thies, said in a statement that Adams would assess the measure once he becomes mayor.
“The mayor-elect will assess this term and other Covid strategies when he is in office and makes decisions based on science, effectiveness and the advice of healthcare professionals,” he said.
Without saying whether or not she agreed with the measure, Ms Hochul told reporters on Monday afternoon that the mayor called before her announcement.
“I was aware of this and I support the leaders of local governments to implement the policies to fight against Covid because they believe that they will be the most useful to deal with this pandemic in their own jurisdictions”, t she declared.
Ms Hochul has sought to distinguish herself from her predecessor by empowering local governments to lead the pandemic response in their localities.
“New York City is one of the localities in New York State, as is Erie County,” she noted.
The Biden administration has tried to set a federal mandate that all large employers must require workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly tests from January, but that measure is blocked in court.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, issued an “emergency” rule earlier this month requiring the vaccination of employees of companies with 100 or more workers, although it exempts those who work from home or exclusively from home. outside.
Georgia M. Pestana, legal counsel for New York City, told a news conference on Monday that the city’s health commissioner clearly had the legal authority to issue a warrant to protect New Yorkers during a health crisis. She argued that the legal questions over the Biden administration’s mandate were different and centered on whether OSHA had the appropriate authority.
Kathryn Wylde, president of a leading business group, the Partnership for New York City, said she was surprised by Mr. de Blasio’s announcement.
“We were caught off guard,” she said. “There’s no warning, no discussion, no idea if it’s legal or who he expects to enforce it.”
About half of the employers in Manhattan offices have adopted vaccination mandates, she said, although some policies include testing options and medical and religious exemptions.
Many questions remain about the Omicron variant. Some early signs exist that it can only cause mild illness, although this observation is based mainly on cases in South Africa among young people, who are generally less likely to become seriously ill from Covid. Scientists are also waiting to see if the cases lead to significant hospitalizations and deaths; both are lagging indicators.
And at the moment, scientists say there’s no reason to believe Omicron is impermeable to existing vaccines, although they may prove to be less protective to an unknown degree.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting.