MANHATTAN (CN) — Amid rising concerns about the omicron variant, private businesses in New York City will have to require their employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.
The mandate is the first of its kind in the United States, bringing roughly 184,000 employers, including restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues into the fold. It is set to go into place on December 27.
By the same date, New Yorkers aged 12 and older will have to show proof of two Pfizer or Moderna vaccine doses, or one Johnson & Johnson shot, to enter the same venues. And by December 14, children ages 5 to 11 will have to show proof of at least one vaccination dose — and will also have to get vaccinated for extracurriculars like 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,” de Blasio said in a statement.
The mayor’s announcement, made on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," took some local business leaders by surprise.
"We had no heads up," said Kathryn Wylde, the president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, in an interview with CNN.
"It's unclear if the city has authority to issue such a mandate," Wylde said. She said New York businesses are not against vaccine mandates but want more information about how the rules will be imposed: "Employers do not want to be enforcement agents."
City officials said it will offer more guidance for businesses about the mandate on December 15.
De Blasio’s term in office ends on December 31, and it remains to be seen whether incoming Mayor Eric Adams will enforce the sweeping mandate, which will essentially apply to all in-person workers.
Now reported in at least 17 states and dozens of countries, the omicron variant of the coronavirus is believed to be more contagious than the delta variant, spreading twice as quickly in South Africa, where it was first discovered.
Experts say vaccination is the best way to prevent individuals from getting extremely ill or dying from the virus, and likely also helps to slow its spread.
According to the city, 94% of its workforce has already gotten vaccinated. Previously, the city’s municipal employees, public and private school teachers, and child care workers were required to get vaccinated.
Those have been challenged in state, federal and appeals courts, with little success so far.
The Second Circuit in October upheld the mandate after a group of teachers called it unconstitutional, saying it would prevent them from pursuing their preferred career in the city school district that enrolls 1 million students.
A state court judge in Staten Island declined to block the vaccine requirement for police officers, following a lawsuit by the Police Benevolent Association.
In November, however, the Fifth Circuit stayed enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for businesses that employ more than 100 people.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said the Big Apple has “led the nation when it comes to decisive action on Covid-19.”
“We have to be more relentless than the virus, and I know that our vaccine policies will save lives and help prevent unnecessary suffering,” he said.
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