On Monday, Dec. 6, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new vaccine mandate for the private sector, testing just how committed people are to the cause.

“Yeah, this is across the board,” de Blasio said of the mandate on Tuesday. “We’ve talked about an exception for remote work because it’s not the same concept, obviously, as people being in a workplace. And if it’s a sole proprietor or someone with a single––you know, they themselves are the only employee, that’s obviously different as well. But for the––basically, everything else, where people go to work in a workspace, that’s what it applies to. And it’s a health commissioner’s order.”

De Blasio said that Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Choksi, Dr. Mitch Katz at NYC Health + Hospitals, and Health Senior Advisor Dr. Jay Varma have been in touch and in constant dialogue with “leaders around the country” to further explain his stance.

De Blasio’s vaccine mandate would affect 184,000 businesses and apply to all companies whose employees are in the office with others. However, the mandate could expand to businesses working remotely or those who have gone the hybrid route. The deadline to present proof of at least one dose of the vaccine is Dec. 27 when the law takes over. It would be just a few days before the mayor leaves office and Mayor-elect Eric Adams moves into City Hall.

The announcement doesn’t include a testing option.

De Blasio’s declaration drew immediate criticism from conservatives. NYGOP Chairperson Nick Langworthy said that Monday’s announcement was another case of de Blasio driving blindfolded.

“Nothing Bill de Blasio has done in eight years has been based on logic or science and this job-killing mandate is no different,” said Langworthy. “Vaccine mandates have worsened the crisis by forcing frontline healthcare workers and first responders out of their jobs. Bill de Blasio will go down as one of the worst mayors in New York City history because of policies like this mandate. Thank god we have less than a month left of him.”

According to a recent study conducted in South Africa published as a preprint by medRxiv, which is operated by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the Omicron variant causes more reinfections, the news of which increases the fear of a new variant breaking through the barriers established by the recent vaccine and booster shots. It didn’t necessarily indicate that symptoms were worse than the Delta variant or the previous incarnations of the virus.

But that hasn’t stopped businesses in the five boroughs from letting their collective voice be heard.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a not-for-profit that represents “eating and drinking establishments” in the city, said that the outgoing mayor is moving too fast with his vaccine mandate when considering the amount of people who come to the city during the holiday season, who shop during the holidays and who are hired for seasonal jobs during the holidays.

“Public health and safety is paramount, but Mayor de Blasio’s announced expansions to the Key to NYC vaccine mandate pose additional challenges for an already beleaguered restaurant industry in need of tourism support and revenues this holiday season,” said Rigie in a statement. “U.S. families visiting New York City for scheduled holiday vacations may not be able to meet the vaccination requirements for children or themselves in time, and children aged 5-11 across the globe aren’t universally authorized to get vaccinated. Given the rapidly approaching holidays and considerable impact of the Dec. 14 deadline, the proposal should be delayed until next year.”

Rigie drove the point home on social media where he shared a message from a family in Belgium. In the message, the mother, allegedly, said she and her son weren’t eligible for the vaccine in their country. They’re now worried about how they’re going to spend their time in New York during their holiday vacation. They’re not sure if the new restrictions apply to non-New Yorkers.

The alliance wasn’t the only entity confused and upset by the mayor’s announcement. Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said that the business community was “blindsided” by de Blasio’s actions.

“Inconsistent policies at the federal, state and city levels are not helpful,” said Wylde in an emailed statement. “City Hall says they will have no specific guidelines or information on how this will be enforced until Dec. 15, which is two weeks before the end of the de Blasio administration. They have also said that employees must have their shot by Dec. 27, giving less than two weeks for compliance.

“Ninety percent of private sector employees are vaccinated, according to our surveys, leaving a very small number who are not,” continued Wylde. “This is not going to turn the tide on COVID. Is the mayor going to mandate that tourists, visitors, and college students get vaccinated? Is that not the more obvious source of contagion?”

The effects of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are unknown, but the short history of the coronavirus has shown an increase in cases as the weather cools. As of Dec. 6, the current 7-day average for COVID cases stands at 2,130. The last time the 7-day average was at least 2,000 was late August.

When the AmNews contacted officials of the New York Civil Liberties Union, we were told that they couldn’t provide an opinion because there wasn’t a “comprehensive policy document” put forth to fully review. City Hall said that it would provide more information on Dec. 15.

Attempts to contact the New York City Law Department over the legality of this mandate were unsuccessful. However, during a media briefing this week, New York City Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana said that their actions will stand up to any challenge in court.

“The Health Commissioner has an obligation and a responsibility to protect the public health,” Pestana told reporters. “Here, he is issuing an order that is intended to do just that in a public health emergency. So, he has the authority, and it is across the board so it’s not picking one industry over another and treating them differently.”

U.S. President Joe Biden attempted to implement something like de Blasio’s policy requiring the vaccine for private entities with 100 or more employees, but it’s stuck in court.

So what makes this different?

“The trouble that the Biden administration has run into in court doesn’t really apply here,” said Pestana. “Those injunctions were issued because there are questions about the authority of OSHA in one case and CMS, which is the agency that regulates Medicare and Medicaid providers, authority to issue the mandates that they did. Here, I don’t believe there is any question that Dr. Chokshi has the authority to issue this mandate.”

In late September, the mayor mandated that anyone who worked for the Department of Education get at least one dose of the COVID vaccination. It eventually expanded into all public sectors. Private businesses also include private schools as well.

The Office of the Superintendent of Schools, Archdiocese of New York said that they were aware of the mayor’s announcement, which includes all religious, private, and other non-governmental schools’ faculty and staff, but are awaiting more information before taking any action.

“An increasing majority of our teachers and school staff have already been vaccinated, and we continue to urge others to do so; those that are not vaccinated are tested weekly,” said an office spokesperson. “Once we receive formal notification from the city, we will review the mandate to determine this order’s relevance and applicability to our Catholic schools, and any potential response. However, our students, families, teachers, and administrators should be assured that our schools in New York City and beyond will remain open for safe, in-person instruction, as we have done for the past year, with a rate of nearly zero COVID transmission in our buildings.”

De Blasio has several weeks left as mayor before handing over the reins to Adams. Will Adams accept and continue this policy? According to the mayor-elect, the answer is…perhaps.

“The science is clear: vaccinations are our way out of this pandemic,” said Adams on Twitter. “Anyone who believes we’re going to be operating under a new playbook under my administration is mistaken. Get vaccinated––and get boosted.”
“We are going to be on the same playbook, we must get vaccinated in a real way,” said Adams during Tuesday’s media briefing.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that the initial city mandate has been successful in spurring more vaccinations and businesses, and its policies have spread across the state. He doesn’t see this going any differently.

“Amid the holiday season, as people travel across the state and the majority of gatherings move inside, it is critical that the governor implement these vaccination screenings statewide, in addition to widespread masking requirements,” stated Williams.
“We have the tools and the capacity to prevent another deadly surge of the virus, now we must have the will to use those tools, the urgency to act now, and the spirit of solidarity to protect our fellow New Yorkers.”

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