New York City's mandate banning anyone from in-person employment absent COVID vaccination will continue indefinitely, the new health commissioner said Friday — an announcement with implications for the city's professional sports teams.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan, who started Tuesday as commissioner, also said that the city health department had set no benchmarks — infections, hospitalizations, deaths — below which the mandate might be suspended.
WHAT TO KNOW
The private-sector vaccine mandate has implications for professional sports like basketball and baseball, whose New York City teams have unvaccinated players.
New York City is the only jurisdiction listed as having a private-sector mandate, according to a National Academy for State Health Policy survey.
Mayor Adams’ office won’t say whether Kyrie Irving’s practicing at a team facility in Brooklyn is in violation of a city order that all employers “must exclude from the workplace any worker” who’s unvaccinated.
"I think it's indefinite at this point," he said. "You know, people who have tried to predict what's going to happen in the future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face."
The mandate began Dec. 27 under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, requiring private-sector employers to enforce it on their workers as a condition of employment. Under a city order, full vaccination is required, and employers "must exclude from the workplace any worker who has not provided such proof."
The city government also requires vaccination for its municipal workers and has fired those who have refused.
In a nationwide analysis by the National Academy for State Health Policy, New York City is the only jurisdiction listed as having a private-sector mandate.
Vasan's comments have implications for pro sports teams and athletes, including Kyrie Irving of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, who is unvaccinated and hasn't been allowed to play in town, even as unvaccinated players from out-of-town teams can play in the same games from which he is banned.
On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams said the city was looking to "peel back" some mandates, which also would prohibit unvaccinated Yankees and Mets from playing at home this season. Adams said the city eventually could reverse the private-sector mandate but cautioned that any change wouldn't be beholden to the start of Major League Baseball's season.
On Friday, Vasan — who also said that a requirement for kids under 5 to wear face masks in school would continue — gave no indication that any peeling back of the employer mandate was imminent.
"I do want to emphasize that our mandates have been among the most important, lifesaving policies that we've put into place throughout this pandemic, and it's helped us build up a wall of immunity, a bulwark against whatever this virus does to change or may throw at us in the future," he said at health department headquarters in Long Island City. "So, I would love for me to sit here and say, 'I can give you a date or a data point when we would lift those things.'"
It’s unclear how the Nets' Irving, who’s barred from participating in games at Barclays Center, is still allowed to practice with the team at home.
The Nets' Instagram account posted a photo last weekend of Irving practicing with teammate Kevin Durant at the team’s Industry City facility in Brooklyn.
Irving was originally given clearance to practice there in late October, because the city deemed it a private building, exempting it from the since-rescinded vaccination mandate called Key2NYC, regulating restaurants, gyms and other venues. But by that time, general manager Sean Marks said that if Irving could only be a part-time player due to his vaccination status, he wouldn’t be allowed to play and practice at all.
Marks walked back that statement in December, when several Nets came down with the virus. Irving had his first practice of the season in Brooklyn on Dec. 29, days after the private-sector mandate went into effect.
On Friday, Vasan was asked whether Irving practicing is allowed under the private-sector mandate. He deferred to his spokesman, Patrick Gallahue, who deferred to Adams’ press office at City Hall, which didn't answer emails.