Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday morning announced a comprehensive 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 takes effect on December 27, and which he described as the first of its kind in the country, was needed as a “preventive attack” to stop another wave of coronavirus cases and help reduce infection. in the winter months and holiday gatherings.
“Omicron is here, and it looks like it’s very transferable,” he said in an interview with MSNBC. “The timing is awful with the winter months.”
New York City has already introduced vaccine mandates for urban workers and for employees and customers at indoor dining, entertainment and fitness centers. Nearly 90 percent of adult New York City residents now have at least one dose of the vaccine.
But Mr de Blasio said the city needs to go further to fight another wave of the virus in New York City, which was once the center of the pandemic. Some private employers have required employees to be vaccinated, but many others have not.
Mr. de Blasio said the new measure would apply to about 184,000 companies. Employees who work personally in private companies must have one dose of the vaccine by 27 December; teleworkers will not be required to get the vaccine. There is no test option as an alternative.
The city plans to offer exemptions for valid medical or religious reasons, Mr de Blasio said. City officials will release detailed guidelines on issues such as enforcement by December 15, after consulting with business leaders.
The mayor also announced that the rules for dining and entertainment would apply to children aged 5 to 11, who must have one dose to enter restaurants and theaters from December 14, and that the requirement for adults will increase from one dose of a vaccine for two starting December 27, except for those who originally received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Mr. de Blasio and Gov. Kathy Hochul held a press conference last Thursday to announce New York State’s first five cases of the Omicron variant, and several more have been announced in New York City since then. The number of coronavirus cases in the city has increased rapidly in recent weeks; the daily number of cases has increased more than 75 percent since November 1st.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat with less than a month left in office, said he was confident the new mandate would survive any legal challenge, noting that previous city mandates had been upheld.
“They have won in court – state court, federal court – every single time,” the mayor told MSNBC. “And that’s because they’re universal and consistent.”
Eric Adams, the elected mayor, who takes office on January 1, is on holiday in Ghana this week. His spokesman, Evan Thies, said in a statement that Mr. Adams would evaluate the measure when he is mayor.
“The elected mayor will evaluate this mandate and other Covid strategies when in office and make decisions based on science, efficiency and advice from health professionals,” he said.
Without saying whether she agreed to the measure or not, Hochul told reporters Monday afternoon that the mayor had called before his announcement.
“I was aware of this and I support the local government leaders in implementing the policies to combat Covid that they believe will be most useful in dealing with this pandemic within their own jurisdictions,” she said.
Ms. Hochul has sought to differentiate itself from its predecessor by empowering local governments to lead the pandemic in their localities.
“New York City is one of the locations in New York State, as is Erie County,” she noted.
The Biden administration tried to establish a federal mandate that all major employers must require workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly tests starting in January, but that measure has been stopped in court.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, issued an “emergency” rule earlier this month that requires vaccinations for employees of companies with at least 100 workers, even if it exempts those working at home or exclusively outdoors.
Georgia M. Pestana, New York City’s business adviser, said at a news conference Monday that the city’s health commissioner clearly has the legal authority to issue a mandate to protect New Yorkers during a health crisis. She argued that the legal issues surrounding the Biden administration’s mandate were different and centered on whether OSHA had the right authority.
Kathryn Wylde, chair of a prominent business group, Partnership for New York City, said she was surprised by the announcement from Mr. of Blasio.
“We were blind,” she said. “There is no warning, no discussion, no idea whether it is legal or who he expects to enforce it.”
About half of the employers in the Manhattan office have adopted vaccine mandates, she said, though some policies include testing options and medical and religious exceptions.
There are many questions left about the Omicron variant. There is some early evidence that it can only cause mild illness, although this observation was mainly based on cases in South Africa among young people who are generally less likely to become seriously ill from Covid. Researchers are also waiting to see if cases lead to significant hospitalizations and deaths; both are lame indicators.
And at the moment, scientists say there is no reason to believe that Omicron is impermeable to existing vaccines, although they may prove to be less protective to an unknown degree.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting.