New York City will become the first U.S. city to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, drinking, nightclubs, gyms, and performances, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
“We’re going to use every tool we’ve got to fight the Delta variant,” de Blasio said in a press conference. “That means more and more vaccinations.”
The “Key to NYC Pass” program will be implemented the week of Aug. 16, and inspections will begin shortly after Labor Day. People can use the state’s Excelsior app, the NYC App, or their paper card as proof of at least one dose, but there won’t be an option to simply show a negative COVID test. Unvaccinated people will be limited to outdoor venues and restaurants, the city said.
“This is a miraculous place, literally, full of wonders, and if you’re vaccinated, all that’s gonna open up to you—you’ll have the key,” de Blasio said. “It’s time for people to see vaccination as literally necessary to live a good and full and healthy life.”
De Blasio said the city focused on areas where people sought out personal enjoyment, though it will look at other areas, such as shopping malls and grocery stores, in the future if needed.
The city could not confirm whether those who could not be vaccinated, such as kids under age 12 or people with health conditions, will be affected by the policy. The mayor said that will be finalized before the Aug. 16 implementation, but the goal is to not exclude anyone.
De Blasio said the city has had multiple conversations with the business community to implement the mandate. New York City had already put down a vaccine-or-testing mandate for city workers, with all new city hires required to be vaccinated.
De Blasio has resisted bringing back an indoor mask mandate, instead opting for an aggressive vaccine-centric approach to beating back the Delta variant. The city has offered $100 to residents who receive vaccinations, with more than 11,000 people receiving the incentive so far.
Throughout the press conference, he brought multiple experts, including former Biden advisers Andy Slavitt and Celine Gounder, to highlight the risks of the Delta variant and the importance of vaccination.
“COVID is not the flu, but vaccines are how we turn COVID into something like the flu,” Gounder said. “Vaccines are how we reopen businesses and offices. Vaccines are how we get back to work. Vaccines are how we get back to school and vaccines are how we learn to live with COVID.”
The move comes as the federal government and big businesses like Disney, Walmart, and Tyson Foods implement vaccine mandates for their employees, but state and local governments have resisted such measures. At least 11 states have gone so far as to prohibit local governments from having vaccine mandates, while others like Florida have halted efforts to create “vaccine passports.” In Europe, France and Italy have issued mandates similar to New York City’s.
De Blasio said tourists who visit the city would have to show some form of proof of vaccination, including a national vaccination pass. When asked about mandating vaccines for teachers, de Blasio did not directly answer the question, instead highlighting the importance of masks and vaccinations in reopening schools. August 9 is the last day for kids age 12 and older to start their shots so that they will be fully vaccinated by the Sept. 13 start of school.
“With no vaccinations at all, we made New York City public schools safe with really intensive health and safety measures, including everyone wearing a mask in the school, which will continue,” he said. “We have the tools to keep school safe, and we need to get our kids back to school. As to any other measures we may take, stay tuned.”
Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean of Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast that the city’s decision to focus on optional places instead of mandatory ones, such as grocery stores, was the best move.
“I do think it will make these locations safer, and I think by focusing on places that are essentially optional, they’re not depriving people of something that they need,” Sharfstein said. “Certain things that are optional and are inherently less safe because of COVID—those are the types of activities where mandates would make more sense.”
He also said the decision may not be in the best interest of other cities with different demographics than New York, but those states should at least have the option to make those decisions. “Those decisions should be made locally,” he said.
Irwin Redlener, founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said he “could not be more supportive” of the move.
“The discussion about mandates has really left the arena of doctors and health-care professionals and it’s now in the crazy world of politics. And politics are driving some of the ignorant steps or bans on mandates,” he told MSNBC.
“It’s just appalling what Gov. DeSantis in Florida and [Gov.] Abbott in Texas are trying to do. Everybody knows that vaccines are the way out of this horrible deadly morass that we’re in. And to stand in the way of mandating vaccines is nuts and it’s dangerous.”