Anyone who wants to dine, drink, exercise or enjoy a live performance indoors in New York City will soon have to show proof of coronavirus vaccination or be denied entry, Mayor de Blasio announced Tuesday in his most aggressive push yet to jack up the city’s flagging immunization rates.
The requirement, which mirrors mandates on leisure activities enforced in some European countries, is presumed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. and comes as the Big Apple is seeing a delta variant-driven surge in new COVID-19 infections.
The program, dubbed “Key to NYC Pass,” will launch Aug. 16 and phase in over the following weeks before officially kicking off Sept. 13, the start of the school year, de Blasio said in his daily briefing from City Hall.
“This is crucial because we know that this will encourage a lot more vaccination,” the mayor said.
At the same time, de Blasio acknowledged that the new mandate will likely draw some controversy.
“Not everyone is going to agree with this, I understand that. But for so many, this will be a lifesaving act,” he said.
Accepted proof of vaccination includes the state’s Excelsior Pass app, a similar app recently launched by the city and physical vaccination cards, according to de Blasio, who noted that the U.S. Justice Department advised the city that such a mandate is “legally absolutely appropriate.”
It is still unclear, though, whether children younger than 12 will be denied entry to some businesses as part of the new mandate.
A vaccine for kids in that age range has not yet been approved, but de Blasio said Tuesday that young children would not be excluded from indoor businesses covered by the mandate and that details about how it would affect them will be released in the coming days.
About 40% of the city’s total population remains unvaccinated, giving the delta variant plenty of room to spread, as reflected by a steady uptick in coronavirus test positivity rates over the past few weeks.
De Blasio has unveiled several incentives and mandates in recent days that are intended to spur the unvaccinated to get their shots. Last week, he announced that the city would give $100 to people who get vaccinated and mandated that all city workers either be vaccinated or tested once a week and mask up on the job if they plan to show up for work and get paid. On Monday, he said the city would require all newly hired municipal workers to be vaccinated in order to work and recommended that people who have been vaccinated begin wearing masks indoors again.
Two critics of the mask-wearing recommendation — Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan, Bronx) and City Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) — said Monday that such guidance isn’t strong enough and that the city should mandate mask-wearing indoors. Both appeared with de Blasio on Tuesday to support his new vaccine mandate for restaurants, bars, gyms and indoor concerts, though.
“Clearly, we need to do better,” Espaillat said. “And the way to do better is this route.”
The new guidance, incentives and mandates come as the delta variant continues to wreak havoc throughout the U.S. and as it’s caused the number of cases in the city to rise in recent weeks.
Dr. Celine Gounder, a former adviser to President Biden and professor at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, noted that the delta variant is twice as infectious as the version of the virus that first tore through the city last year — and that it is more likely to affect children, which was not as common with earlier strains of the virus.
“People with the delta variant have a thousand times as high the level of the virus in their nose and throat as they would have had with earlier strains of the virus,” she said during de Blasio’s briefing. “More virus means more contagious and also more severe disease. We’re now seeing children and young people getting very sick with the delta variant.
“Although it wasn’t common for kids to transmit COVID to others last year, with the delta variant that’s a completely different story,” she added. “It looks like kids can in fact transmit and that they can get very sick. One way out of this is vaccination.”