Mayor Eric Adams said he is lifting New York City’s only-in-the-nation mandate that private sector employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.  Credit: NY Mayor's Office

Mayor Eric Adams is lifting New York City’s only-in-the-nation mandate that private sector employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 — but he is keeping, for now, the requirement for the city’s more than 300,000 public workers.

The revocation for the private sector goes into effect Nov. 1 and puts “the choice in the hands of New York businesses," Adams said Tuesday morning at an announcement at City Hall.

In theory, defiant businesses face escalating fines starting at $1,000, but the mandate has never actually been enforced and not a single fine ever issued.

Asked Tuesday why he’s lifting the private but not public-sector mandate — under which more than 1,400 municipal workers have been fired for failure to be vaccinated — Adams said: “We’re in a steady phase of pivot and shift. We do things. We roll things out slowly. Right now, that is not on the radar for us.”

What to know

  • Mayor Eric Adams is lifting New York City’s only-in-the-nation mandate that private sector employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • The requirement for the city’s more than 300,000 public workers remains in place.
  • About 89%, or 5.9 million out of New York City's 6.6 million adult population, is fully vaccinated.

Pressed further, he added: “I don’t think anything dealing with COVID is, makes sense, and there’s no logical pathway of one can do. You make the decisions based on how to keep our city safe, how to keep our employees operating by taking their vaccine.”

The mandates date to Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio. Although the public sector mandate continues to be enforced, Newsday reported earlier this year that neither Adams nor de Blasio had ever enforced the private-sector mandate.

Adams’ spokesman said in that Newsday article that the city had done no inspections, levied no fines, and had no plans to do so.

Under the mandate, which started Dec. 27 in the last days of de Blasio's mayoralty, employers must seek each worker's proof of vaccination, maintain a log of who is and isn’t vaccinated, and “exclude from the workplace any worker” who is unvaccinated, according to the city's order.

Asked about the public health logic for keeping one employment mandate and not the other, the city's health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan did not answer directly but said, “At the time of institution of these mandates, the major effect was to push people to get vaccinated. You always have early adopters, and you always have the intransigent few who won’t get vaccinated, and the purpose of the mandate in the interest of public health is also to push people to get vaccinated, which it’s been extraordinarily successful in doing.”

Professor Stephen Morse, a lab virologist who now studies pandemic epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, said he suspects private employers that chose to enforce the mandate while it's been in effect are likely to continue regardless of the order's sunset.

"I don't know how many of them will stop," he said.

And, he said, employers that never enforced the mandate are unlikely to start requiring vaccination once the mandate is lifted.

Told about the lack of inspections and fines, Morse said of local government officials: "The vaccine mandate was never really enforced in the first place and they're now just acknowledging that fact." 

The public sector mandate has been challenged in court, particularly by workers fired as a result of refusing to be vaccinated.

In March, Adams announced the end of the private-sector mandate for hometown athletes and other performers but not anyone else. That move was prompted by unvaccinated athletes like the Nets’ Kyrie Irving, who had been barred from playing in home games until the change.

Following Adams’ announcement Tuesday, the Police Benevolent Association, the labor union representing the rank and file, issued an emailed statement: “Now that the city has abandoned any pretense of a public health justification for vaccine mandates, we expect it to settle our pending lawsuits and reinstate with back pay our members who unjustly lost their jobs.”

And in an emailed statement by the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization of labor unions, chairman Harry Nespoli said: “It’s appalling that the city is now creating a three-tier system, originally exempting the elite, now one for the private sector and still nothing for the essential workers of our city. It’s long past time that the city drop the vaccine mandate for all public sector workers. How can the city leave behind the very people they mandated to come in every day without vaccines to keep things running when everything was shut down? The city workers demand that our mandate be dropped immediately and get our workers back to work.”

Also Tuesday, Adams announced the lifting of a separate requirement that public school students be vaccinated as a condition of participating in sports or extracurricular activities.

Adams' announcements are the latest rollback of mandates imposed earlier in the pandemic — including masks in public gathering places such as schools, and proof of vaccination at theaters, eateries, gyms and elsewhere. Earlier this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul dropped a mask mandate for public transportation.

President Joe Biden had tried to impose a private-sector mandate for employers — vaccination or test — with at least 100 workers but it was blocked in January by the U.S. Supreme Court, which kept in place a mandate for health care workers.

One of the few mandates in New York State that remains is for masking at health care facilities. 

With Anthony DeStefano

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