NEW YORK (AP) — All private employers in New York City will have to require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the mayor announced Monday, imposing one of the most aggressive vaccine rules in the nation.
The move by Mayor Bill de Blasio comes as cases are climbing again in the U.S. and the worrisome but little-understood omicron variant is gaining a toehold in New York and elsewhere around the country.
“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,” he said.
De Blasio, a Democrat with just weeks left in office as leader of the nation’s largest city, said the mandate will take effect Dec. 27, with workers needing to provide proof of having received at least one dose of the vaccine.
It will apply to roughly 184,000 businesses in the city of 8.8 million people, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.
De Blasio said the measure is aimed at staving off a spike of infections amid holiday gatherings and as cold weather drives more people indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.
Vaccine rules across states and cities vary widely, with some states resisting any mandates and others requiring the shots for government employees or certain sectors that run a particularly high risk, such as health care workers.
But no state has announced a broad private-sector mandate as New York City has, according to the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy.
President Joe Biden sought to impose a similar mandate nationally, one that would apply to businesses with 100 or more workers, but federal courts have put that on hold ahead of the Jan. 4 deadline. And the Biden plan would allow workers to opt out of the shots by getting tested regularly for COVID-19.
De Blasio said he expects his new mandate to survive any legal challenges. And while workers will be able to ask for religious or medical exemptions, they will not be allowed to choose regular testing instead. The mandate will apply only to in-person employees, he said.
Also, the mayor announced that anyone 12 or older who wants to dine indoors at a restaurant, go to a gym or see a show will have to produce proof of having received two shots of the vaccine, up from the current requirement of one dose. In addition, children ages 5 to 11 will have to show proof of at least one shot, de Blasio said.
De Blasio said he will release more details next week about how the mandate will be enforced.
About 5.9 million adults in New York City have gotten at least a first dose, out of 7 million people age 18 and up. That translates to 84%.
Cases of the omicron variant have been reported in about one-third of the states, but scientists cannot say for certain yet whether it is more dangerous than previous versions. The delta variant still accounts for nearly all infections in the U.S., and a rise in cases in recent weeks has swamped hospitals, especially in the Midwest and New England.
Health experts have strongly urged people to get their shots and a booster, saying they believe the vaccine will still offer protection against the new form of the virus.
“Vaccination is the central weapon in this war against COVID. It’s the one thing that has worked every single time across the board,” de Blasio said at a virtual news conference.
“A lot of folks to me in the private sector have said to me they believe in vaccination, but they’re not quite sure how they can do it themselves,” he continued. “Well, we’re going to do it.”
Vaccinations are already required in New York City for hospital and nursing home workers and for city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. A vaccination mandate for employees of private and religious schools was announced last week.
De Blasio, who leaves office at the end of the month and has indicated he may seek the nomination for governor of New York next year, has sought to portray himself as a national leader in the fight against COVID-19. His other vaccine mandates have largely survived legal challenges, and he has credited the policy with raising vaccination rates among the reluctant.
The new mandate takes effect days before de Blasio leaves office and Democrat Eric Adams is due to be sworn in. Evan Thies, a spokesman for Adams, said in a statement that 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.”
The Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, which includes some 30,000 businesses big and small, said it supports the tightened measures.
The group’s executive director, Helana Natt, said businesses have been hurting since the pandemic closed restaurants, bars and other places and turned busy spots like Times Square practically into ghost towns.
“Now things are turning around, and we want to make sure that we don’t go backward,” Natt said.
Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, called the newly announced requirement a “job-killing, small business-suppressing mandate.”
“When you dangerously combine a far-left, lame duck politician, who is anti-business, one-dimensional, unaccountable, not bright and has a perpetual ‘I always know best’ attitude,’ you get Bill de Blasio, the Worst Mayor in America,” Zeldin said in a statement.