Health care workers protest against being forced to get the...

Health care workers protest against being forced to get the COVID-19 vaccine outside the New York State Office Building in Hauppauge. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

When state and New York City COVID-19 vaccine mandates emerged last year, they came under sharp criticism from those who opposed vaccination or government requirements.

"My body, my choice," the call rang out.

But the mandates were rightly rooted in science, in the need to keep the pandemic at bay, and in the effort to start the return to normalcy while keeping New Yorkers safe. They made sense — and they helped. Residents safely headed to Broadway and out to concerts. In New York City, restaurant requirements helped drive a return to dining out, and mandates on teachers, police officers and others helped protect the most vulnerable.

And many private employers instituted their own vaccine mandates — mandates that remain in place now to protect employees and encourage an eventual return to the office.

But as the pandemic began to wane, state and local officials began to inconsistently lift some requirements.

Concertgoers and sports fans can go to an indoor arena without being vaccinated or tested. Professional athletes and performers in New York City no longer have to be vaccinated. Restaurants aren't required to stop anyone at the door to check the little white card or the vaccination passport on our phones.

But New York City teachers, police officers and other employees still must be vaccinated. And, at the state level, the Capitol building and the Legislative Office Building still require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

It's that last rule that's drawing the ire of groups who oppose vaccinate mandates and, in some cases, vaccines themselves. They're planning rallies and visits to lawmakers next week, and complain that the mandates still in place mean they won't be able to go into the state Capitol complex because they're not vaccinated and refuse to test.

That, of course, is their decision. Their refusal to test is particularly head-scratching. They've argued it's expensive, though it can be free, and that it's not reliable, when it is. The reality is that they'd probably push back against any COVID-19-related requirement in the first place.

The absurdity of the situation is clear. Busloads of demonstrators are coming to Albany to protest potential future mandates — but it's the mandates themselves that will keep them outside.

But they're not wrong to highlight the inconsistent messaging and decision-making. Why, for instance, can someone in Albany go to a concert with thousands of other people — likely unmasked — but that same person can't walk into the Legislative Office Building?

Here's one potential distinction: While going out to eat or see a show is optional, interacting with the public if you're a police officer or teacher or elected official is not. When something is optional, we can make our own risk choices; when it's not, we can't.

But state officials haven't come together to explain themselves clearly. While a state Assembly spokesman said the chamber wants "to keep people safe," a spokeswoman for the Office of General Services didn't provide an explanation at all, noting only that many state agencies formulated the policy together.

A maddening lack of logical policies and reasoned explanations for them isn't new, especially on politically fraught topics like this one. But when those opposed to vaccines and mandates can use such inconsistency to their advantage, it might open a door that's awfully tough to close.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months