By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that private employers in the nation’s largest city will face a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for their workers.
The mayor made the surprise announcement on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said the order will take effect Dec. 27, the last week of Mr. de Blasio’s term in office. Later in the day, he announced other expansions of the city’s vaccination protocols, including new requirements for kids to get shots in order to eat in restaurants or go to other venues.
In a tweet, Mr. de Blasio said New York City has been a world leader in recovering from the pandemic. The way to “beat the virus” is by requiring shots and providing incentives for those who get them.
“Now we’re taking another step towards the future – a private sector employee vaccine mandate,” he said on the social media site. “Together, we can save lives and move forward.”
The employer mandate will cover nearly 185,000 businesses in the city, according to a release from Mr. de Blasio’s office.
The citywide employer mandate comes a week after the first case of the Omicron variant was found in the country. By Thursday, five cases were identified in New York City and another in Minnesota from an individual who attended an anime convention in Manhattan.
Over the weekend, the number of new variant cases rose to 10 in the state.
During a press conference later in the morning, Mr. de Blasio and other city officials, including Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, unveiled details of the expanded mandate.
Starting Dec. 14, children ages 5 to 11 will need to get an initial vaccine dose in order to participate in such activities as sports, band, orchestra and dance. The one-dose requirement will also allow kids that age to still eat indoors at restaurants and attend entertainment venues.
On Dec. 27, the same day that the private employer mandate takes effect, the city will also start requiring kids ages 12 and older to have two doses of a vaccine. That excludes individuals who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose.
Dr. Chokshi said that when health leaders were developing the new policies, they had several groups of New Yorkers in mind. That includes essential workers who he said have been at risk for more than 20 months since the pandemic began. They also thought about health care workers and those who cannot get the vaccine, such as young children and immunocompromised individuals.
“For all of those groups, risk rises as community transmission increases,” Dr. Chokshi said. “Even before Omicron becomes more common, we’ve seen case numbers grow in recent weeks due to Delta, the devil we know.”
Over the past month, New York City’s case numbers have increased more than two-fold, he added, noting that all five boroughs and each age group have seen their numbers rise.
The mayor added that the city will provide businesses with additional information regarding enforcement and accommodations on Dec. 15.
He added that he’s confident the business community will support the move.
“It’s always better for the private sector if the government sets a single universal standard, so they don’t have to have the reality with their employees of saying, ‘Hey, this is something we’re going to do on our own,’” Mr. de Blasio said. “This is what a lot have actually asked for in the private sector – one standard that applies to everyone.”
However, in a statement to media outlets, the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit group representing 330 businesses that have more than 1 million in the city, said it was blindsided by the city’s move.
The organization said it has concerns about the city’s policy, especially if there’s no testing option available. It noted that even President Joe Biden’s order for major employers included a test-out option for unvaccinated workers.
“Inconsistent policies at the federal, state and city levels are not helpful, and it is unclear who will enforce a mayoral mandate, and whether it is even legal,” the Partnership’s statement read. “President Biden’s vaccine mandate on employers with over 100 employees is currently held up by litigation, and it is hard to imagine that the mayor can do what the president is being challenged to accomplish.”
While the Biden Administration’s mandates have been blocked, at least temporarily, in federal courts, New York City has won cases on its mandates in state and federal courts.
On MSNBC, Mr. de Blasio said he’s confident the city will prevail because the city’s mandate will be universal.
“They’re about protecting the public right now from a clear and present danger,” he said.
The final day for Mr. de Blasio in office is Dec. 31. Mayor-elect Eric Adams takes over on Jan. 1.
A message to Mr. Adams’ transition team was not immediately returned Monday morning.
More than 12.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in New York City, with about 6.5 million residents getting at least one dose. That equates to nearly 90 percent of all adults.
In addition, more than 125,000 children ages 5 to 11 have received vaccination doses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved that age group to receive a low-dose vaccine from Pfizer a month ago.