Mayor de Blasio announces vaccine mandate for all private employers in NYC

Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City will institute a first-in-the-country vaccine mandate for all in-person private-sector employers this month to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the emerging Omicron variant, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday, Dec. 6.

New Yorkers will have to get their shots against the coronavirus by Dec. 27 — four days before de Blasio leaves office — and the city will start requiring two doses of the vaccine instead of just one, the mayor revealed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” Hizzoner said. “So as of today we’re going to announce a first-in-the-nation measure, our health commissioner will announce, a vaccine mandate for private sector employers across the board.”

Children aged 5-11 will be required to show proof of at least one dose of the vaccine starting Dec. 14 for activities like indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment, according to de Blasio.

“A lot of parents, of course, want to take their kids out to wonderful things that’ll be happening in the holiday season. Here’s a reminder, get your child vaccinated,” he said.

Currently, only about 20% of New Yorkers in that age group have gotten vaccinated, according to the mayor.

New Yorkers 12-years-old or above will also have to show proof of getting two doses, just like adults, except for those who got the one-and-done Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The new mandate will apply to some 184,000 businesses, according to City Hall, and comes after the mayor announced a mandate for yeshivas, Catholic schools, and other private schools on Thursday, where teachers and students will have to show proof of at least one dose by Dec. 20. 

The protocols will only apply to in-person workers and businesses with more than one employee, the mayor added during virtual press briefing later that morning. 

The lame duck mayor claimed he would work to enforce the new rules by joining forces with the “business community” and release more details — including penalties for noncompliance — by Dec. 15, and said it will be similarly effective to previous vaccine requirements to do indoor dining, go to gyms, and other venues. 

“There were a few times where we had to penalize people, but it was rare. So, we are going to put together the rules, work with the business community,” the mayor told reporters.

He added that some accommodations could be made for exemptions as with previous mandates, such as for religious or medical reasons. 

A similar move by President Joe Biden targeting all businesses in the country with more than 100 workers was blocked in court, but the city’s lawyer said the city’s order will withstand lawsuits because it affects all businesses equally.

“The health commissioner has an obligation and a responsibility to protect the public health,” said Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana during the press briefing. “It is across the board, so it’s not picking one industry over another and treating them differently, so we’re confident that this will survive any challenges.”

De Blasio pushed through a mandate for all city workers over the past month, which initially faced vocal backlash from some departments, but bumped up the average inoculation rate for the municipal workforce to 94% for at least one dose as of Dec. 1.

President Biden imposed a vaccine mandate for all federal employees with a deadline on Nov. 22, meaning employees of New York State and state-controlled entities like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and CUNY will be among the very few workforces that don’t have to get the shot. 

The MTA notably is pouring $100 million in federal funds to amp up a regular testing operation for thousands of their workers that have yet to show a proof of vaccine. 

Governor Kathy Hochul instituted a vaccine mandate for state healthcare workers starting in late September, but has been hesitant to expand it to large agencies like the 67,000-strong MTA, where the rate for at least one dose stands at 71% as of Dec. 2. 

Eight Omicron cases have been detected in New York State residents as of Saturday, seven of which were found in New York City, and two additional detections were connected to out-of-state travelers who attended an anime convention in the Javits Center last month.

It will be up to incoming Mayor Eric Adams whether to actually keep these new restrictions, and a spokesperson for his campaign did not commit to upholding the policies.

“The mayor-elect will evaluate this mandate and other COVID strategies when he is in office and make determinations based on science, efficacy and the advice of health professionals,” said Evan Thies in a statement.

De Blasio told reporters he met with Adams at Gracie Mansion last Monday, the day the mayor-elect departed for a trip to Ghana, and briefed him again on Friday. 

“I gave him the full update on what we’re doing,” said de Blasio. “He has always said he understands right now there are urgent threats facing our city and the mayor’s job is to protect New Yorkers, and that’s my responsibility up til the very last minute.”

But some business leaders were unhappy about the sweeping mandate, with the head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce saying it was “virtually unenforceable,” on the 62,000 small businesses in that borough alone. 

“As many employers, especially small businesses,  are still struggling with labor shortages, the mayor’s private business mandates mean more pain for the city’s economy,” said the chamber’s president and CEO Randy Peers in a statement. “It sets up problematic confrontations between employers and staff, which could result in layoffs around the holidays that would be incredibly unfortunate.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the nightlife and restaurant trade group the New York City Hospitality Alliance, raised concerns that the tourism industry would suffer due to visitors not being able to get their young kids vaccinated over the next eight days.

“Given the rapidly approaching holidays and considerable impact of the December 14 deadline, the proposal should be delayed until next year,” Rigie said in a statement.