Enjoying indoor activities across New York City might not require a mask, but in a little more than a month those looking to interact with others in restaurants, gyms and theaters are going to need something a little more: like a vaccine shot.
Some 5 million people inside the city have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, but that’s just not enough, Mayor Bill de Blasio says. If the city is going to have any chance of defending itself against the latest delta variant surge, it’s going to require needles jabbed into every arm possible. And if getting a free subway ride or $100 cash isn’t incentive enough — maybe enjoying New York City’s nightlife is.
“I’ve been saying now over the last few weeks that we’ve got to climb the ladder,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re going to use every tool we’ve got to fight the delta variant and to end the COVID era once and for all in this city. That means more and more vaccines.”
Both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have required a number of frontline workers at hospitals and in mass transit to either get vaccinated, or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests. But the mayor took those efforts a step further on Tuesday, saying that anyone who wishes to work at or frequent restaurants, gyms and theaters would be required to be fully vaccinated come Sept. 13.
de Blasio is calling it the “Key to NYC” pass.
“When you hear those words, I want you to imagine the notion that because someone’s vaccinated, they can do all the amazing things that are available in this city,” the mayor said. “This is a miraculous place literally full of wonders. And if you’re vaccinated, all that’s going to open up to you. You’ll have the key, and you can open the door.”
The move comes a day after de Blasio sidestepped recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reinstitute indoor mask mandates for everyone — even if they are vaccinated. The CDC made the recommendation for any area where there was a high transmission rate of the coronavirus — especially the more contagious delta variant. Studies have shown even vaccinated people can contribute to spreading this variant, and the CDC believes returning to mask usage indoors for everyone could help prevent the spread of the virus.
“So what was true before the CDC guidance was the separation between what vaccinated people and unvaccinated people could do was clear, and the way that unvaccinated people had additional requirements in terms of wearing masks was clear,” de Blasio said. “What we’ll be saying today … is we want to strongly recommend that people wear masks in indoor settings, even if you’re vaccinated.”
If everyone around you is vaccinated, there should be no problems, the mayor said. But if you are among unvaccinated people — or you’re not sure of the vaccination status of those around you — the recommendation de Blasio can give is to wear a mask.
The mayor also issued an executive order on Monday requiring all new city hires be vaccinated with at least one shot, unless they have a medical or religious reason not to. If they can’t show proof of getting the shot, any offer of employment will be rescinded. If they don’t get a second shot within 30 days from being hired, de Blasio says those employees will be let go.
“Even though I have been fully vaccinated, I will be wearing a mask in public indoor settings, in part because I’m a parent of a young child who is not yet eligible for vaccination, and I want to take care to protect her,” said the city’s health and mental hygiene department commissioner Dave Chokshi. “Most vital, as the mayor said, is for people who are not yet fully vaccinated to wear face coverings any time they’re outside of their own home, and masks offer an important layer of protection for those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at higher risk — even if fully vaccinated.”
The decision comes on the heels of Cuomo ordering that all Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees as well as those working on the New York side of the port authority be vaccinated by Labor Day, or face daily COVID-19 testing.
More than 850 people were hospitalized for the coronavirus as of Tuesday, according to Cuomo, with a positivity rate near 3.5 percent 85,000 tests. Although New York continues to inch closer to the 70 percent threshold of fully vaccinated adults, de Blasio says it’s more important now than ever to get this protection against the coronavirus.
“Vaccines are the No. 1 most powerful weapon against COVID by far,” the mayor said, “but we also clearly believe there’s a place for masks. Everything we do is vaccine-centric. The entire strategy is around vaccines, but of course, we want to make sure people are using masks in all the right ways.”