New York City will offer revised guidance Monday on the use of masks in the five boroughs as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
Even so, the mayor stressed the greater importance of getting more New Yorkers vaccinated, and hinted that additional vaccine mandates may be down the road. Currently, the city mandated that municipal workers either get the shot or be subject to frequent testing.
De Blasio also lauded restaurateur Danny Meyer’s announcement earlier Thursday that his Union Square Partnership would require all guests and employees to be vaccinated going forward, and encouraged other private businesses across the Five Boroughs to do the same.
After most mask mandates in New York City were lifted back in May, the issue has resurfaced with the uptick in COVID-19 cases due to the more potent Delta strain. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance recommending that all, including vaccinated individuals, return to wearing masks indoors to help avoid spreading the infection.
Pressed by reporters Thursday as to what the city will do regarding masks, de Blasio said he’d have more to announce on Monday — as city health officials consider the new CDC guidance and recommend adjustments to mask policies in the Five Boroughs.
When asked about the wait, the mayor said his administration wants to be careful of putting together new guidance that continues to encourage New Yorkers to get the vaccine without falsely suggesting that masks are an alternative to getting the shot.
“We’re going to be providing further guidance at the beginning of next week, but I want to keep the attention focused on the thing that will make the difference, which is vaccination,” de Blasio said. “Everything we do is going to revolve around vaccination. That is the key, that is the difference maker. If we’re not talking about vaccination, we’re not solving the problem.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi reinforced the mayor’s point, noting that the CDC guidance pointed out that masks can merely help control the spread of COVID-19, but the vaccine “is the most important public health action to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”
De Blasio said the city’s going to continue incentivizing unvaccinated New Yorkers into getting the shot — including the new $100 payment for those getting the shots in the weeks to come at city-run COVID-19 vaccine hubs. But patience is wearing thin seven months into the vaccination effort, and soon, the mayor projected that both public and private venues are going to start limiting access for unvaccinated individuals.
“We want to make sure we send the right message, constantly reinforcing and rewarding folks for vaccination,” de Blasio said, “and making clear to unvaccinated folks that not only are they putting themselves and their family in danger, but they’re not going to have the opportunity to do a lot of things that they want to — because more and more, it’s going to be only for unvaccinated people.”
De Blasio suggested that private businesses across the city follow Meyer’s lead and institute their own vaccine mandates to help encourage more New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
“But my message to the private sector is that different orgs have different opportunities to do things. private entities do have more flexibility, in some cases. So I want everybody, every government entity, every private organization, go as far as you can go,” de Blasio said. “This is the shape of things to come. … We have started with the current mandate, more to come. But the bottom line is we want to encourage everyone to get in motion, do what you can do.”
More than anything, the mayor stressed, vaccination is key toward continuing the city’s recovery from the pandemic and avoiding a regression back into the societal restrictions imposed at the height of the health crisis.
As of Thursday morning, more than 189 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. All versions of the vaccine are effective against the Delta strain and other virus variants, the CDC reported.
Close to 99% of all recent deaths related to COVID-19 involve individuals who are not vaccinated, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. The risk of “breakthrough infection” among vaccinated people cannot be eliminated, the CDC says, as long as a high number of unvaccinated people continue to transmit the virus.