New York City to Require Proof of Vaccination for Indoor Dining and Gyms

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the tough restrictions were necessary to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated and curtail a third wave of coronavirus cases.

About 66 percent of New York City adults are fully vaccinated. 
About 66 percent of New York City adults are fully vaccinated. Credit...Mary Inhea Kang for The New York Times
Emma G. Fitzsimmons

New York City will become the first U.S. city to require proof of vaccination for a variety of activities for workers and customers — indoor dining, gyms and movie theaters — a move intended to put pressure on people to get vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday.

The restrictions, similar to mandates issued in France and Italy last month, represent the most aggressive response to lagging vaccination rates in the United States, and they come as the number of virus cases surge across the country. Mr. de Blasio said he hoped that other cities would implement similar measures.

“This is a miraculous place literally full of wonders,” Mr. de Blasio said. “If you’re vaccinated, all that’s going to open up to you. But if you’re unvaccinated, unfortunately you will not be able to participate in many things.”

The vaccine requirement marks a new chapter in the fight against the coronavirus in a city that was once the epicenter of the pandemic and where more than 33,000 people have died from the virus. With the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, the average number of daily cases has jumped to more than 1,300, roughly six times the number in June.

Vaccine mandates are accelerating across the country, as both municipalities and private businesses have adopted them. On Tuesday, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 workers in offices, slaughterhouses and poultry plants across the country that they would need to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 as a “condition of employment.” And Microsoft, which employs roughly 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices.

President Biden said on Tuesday that he believed other cities should follow New York City’s lead in requiring proof of vaccination for restaurants and gyms.

“You have to give proof that you’ve been vaccinated or you can’t come in,” Mr. Biden told reporters.

An even bigger push toward mandates could happen by the end of the month. The Food and Drug Administration has sped up its timetable for approving Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, possibly by September. The three vaccines currently in use in the United States have been administered under an emergency authorization.

Mr. de Blasio’s announcement came a day after he declined to set an indoor mask mandate even as more cities and at least one state did so. He has instead prioritized vaccination, requiring city workers to get vaccinated or routinely tested, and incentivizing vaccines for the public with an offer of $100 cash. Mr. de Blasio hopes that limiting many of the city’s most popular social activities to only vaccinated people may provide an even bigger incentive.

The final list of types of businesses included in this new mandate was still being finalized, but museums are likely to also be included, according to a city official.

City officials said that inspectors from the health department and other agencies would enforce the new rules, which would require workers and patrons to have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and that restaurants could face fines. The logistics of monitoring the city’s 25,000 restaurants and bars could be challenging — and contentious.

Joseph Borelli, a city councilman from Staten Island, said that the rules would crush small businesses and that he was considering filing a lawsuit. He said a vaccine mandate would prevent many Black and Latino residents from eating at restaurants because vaccination rates are lower in those communities.

“I believe this is the spark that will get a lot of people very angry about the city’s response,” he said. “This is going to create two separate classes of people.”

The measures in France prompted millions of people to book vaccine appointments and also sparked a series of huge protests. In New York, Broadway recently set its own requirement that theatergoers must be vaccinated and wear masks in order to attend performances.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat in his final year in office, said he had consulted with officials from the Biden administration about the mandate and believed it would hold up in court. The rules will start on Aug. 16 and enforcement will begin in mid-September, when schools are expected to reopen and more workers could return to offices in Manhattan.

Business groups in New York said that the mandate would be another hurdle for the hospitality industry, which was hit particularly hard during the pandemic.

“These new mandates are a burden that will be placed on hospitality staff that is already stretched thin, and this will only get worse,” said Melissa Fleischut, the president of the New York State Restaurant Association. “Government is still making things harder on our industry. We can’t take it much longer.”

But Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said the new restrictions “may prove an essential move to protecting public health and ensuring that New York City does not revert to restrictions and shut down orders.”

The rules are effectively the first government-enforced vaccine requirement for private workers in New York City. Last week, Mr. de Blasio issued a mandate requiring all 300,000 city employees to be vaccinated or face weekly virus testing.

Some restaurant workers applauded the new mandate.

Camila Rinaldi, a former line cook at Marta in Manhattan who will start as sous chef at Great Jones Distillery in September, was relieved and wished it had been done sooner.

“This is about public health,” she said, “so if you are entitled to not have the vaccine, and I am entitled to have the vaccine, I am also entitled to not want to be around you because I am taking care of myself and taking care of the whole community.”

Nicole Ponseca, the owner of Jeepney in the East Village of Manhattan, felt caught between her concern for the health of her staff and the idea of infringing on people’s rights.

“I want to do the right thing and say we need to be vaxed,” she said. “I am also sensitive to people’s personal choice and what they want to do with their bodies.”

Roughly two-thirds of adults in the city are fully vaccinated, according to city data, although pockets of the city have lower rates.

Mr. de Blasio’s new initiative, called the Key to NYC Pass, will require people to show proof of vaccination using the city’s new digital app, the state’s Excelsior app or a paper card.

“Not everyone is going to agree with this — I understand that,” Mr. de Blasio said. “But for so many people, this is going to be a lifesaving act. We are putting a mandate in place that is going to guarantee a much higher level of vaccination in this city. And that is the key to protecting people, and the key to our recovery.”

U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat and James Sanders Jr., a state senator, were among Black and Latino leaders who praised the new measures. Mr. Sanders represents Southeast Queens, a part of the city that had one of the highest rates of death from Covid-19 in the first wave of the virus, and that now has one of the highest proportions of unvaccinated people in the city.

“You have the right to your body, of course, but you do not have the right to kill other people,” Mr. Sanders said at the mayor’s briefing. “A strong stance needs to be taken.”

New Yorkers will be able to continue to dine outdoors without showing proof of vaccination. Mr. de Blasio said that city officials were discussing details like whether children younger than 12 years old, who cannot be vaccinated yet, can dine indoors at restaurants or visit a movie theater.

The new mandate will certainly cause debate among residents in a city where millions remain unvaccinated.

Josh Richardson, 30, a building maintenance worker from Brooklyn who was unvaccinated, said he opposed the new rule.

“You’re forcing people to get something they don’t want,” said Mr. Richardson. “That’s not fair to the people.”

Rachel Wyatt, 58, a teacher at a public high school who lives in Brooklyn, said she supported the idea.

“As a vaccinated person it has been so discouraging” to see the pandemic continuing because of the high number of unvaccinated people, she said.

Health experts welcomed the new restrictions while pushing Mr. de Blasio to move more quickly on mandates and masking requirements. Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, said it was a good policy and should start immediately.

“There are existing ways to show you’re vaccinated, so why wait at this point?” she said.

Gabriel Stulman implemented a vaccine requirement at his West Village restaurants in June — with hardly any pushback from customers.

“The reality is that it didn’t ruffle many feathers,” he said.

Mr. Stulman said that most of his customers believe in the vaccine.

“For anybody who is not vaccinated, I still got a seat for you, you can still eat here,” he said. “Outside.”

Reporting was contributed by Julie Creswell, Priya Krishna, Sharon Otterman, Joseph Goldstein, Marc Santora, Nate Schweber and Aurelien Breeden.