The Yankees and the Orioles line up for Opening Day...

The Yankees and the Orioles line up for Opening Day ceremonies at the start of the Yankees' home opener at Yankee Stadium on March 28, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday the city could eventually "peel back" the private-sector mandate that prohibits unvaccinated Mets and Yankees from playing at home this season but added that the change will not be beholden to the start of the Major League Baseball season.

The city’s private-sector mandate, which went into effect on Dec. 27, is the same rule barring Kyrie Irving from playing with the Nets at Barclays Center. The rule prohibits the employment of unvaccinated individuals who perform "in-person work or interact with the public," and a spokesperson from the mayor’s office Tuesday confirmed this also applied to unvaccinated Mets and Yankees.

Neither baseball team has revealed how many players are unvaccinated. On Monday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, "We still have a few guys, at least, that aren’t vaccinated."

The Yankees' home opener is April 7, and the Mets have their first game at Citi Field on April 15. Unvaccinated visiting athletes can play in city stadiums because the only mandate applies to employers based in New York City.

"I think it was unfair for the city to state that players who come from outside the city — they're not vaccinated — can play, and those who are on New York City's sports teams are not allowed to play," Adams said at an unrelated news conference at the NYPD academy in College Point. "We're going to peel back, like we did with the Key2NYC, like we did with children, and we'll continue to do so. But I'm not going to be rushed in based on a season schedule. I'm going to do this right for the people of this city, and I'm not focusing on one individual. I'm focusing on 9 million people."

Adams repealed Key2NYC — the mandate barred unvaccinated individuals from frequenting restaurants, indoor entertainment venues and gyms — on March 7. Baseball was not under those restrictions last season because the game is played outdoors (it still applied to Irving, though, because he plays in an indoor arena). Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the city’s outgoing health commissioner, previously said the focus of the private-sector mandate is "compliance, not punishment" — that is to say, a tool to convince people to get vaccinated.

Wednesday, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said team president Randy Levine was in contact with the mayor’s office and discussions on whether the mandate will be repealed by Opening Day "have really just begun." Boone said he wasn’t yet concerned about not having his full complement of players and hasn’t had a group discussion with them.

Mets manager Buck Showalter said he would "let that run its course, see where we end up.

"Those things have a way of resolving themselves one way or the other. When it all clears, we’ll see what we got and adjust."

Brandon Nimmo, the Mets union representative, and James McCann, the alternate representative, declined to comment.

"It’s one of those things that we have to navigate through as a repercussion of the pandemic," said Pete Alonso, who was in a public-service announcement urging New Yorkers to get vaccinated last year. "It’s a complicated thing. I think everything is going to be fine."

Adams' comments came on the same day baseball and the Players Association released loosened COVID-19 protocols. Under the new rules, players — vaccinated and unvaccinated — need only be tested once prior to the season and not again unless they’re symptomatic.

There are exceptions for those who are deemed "close contacts" of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Vaccinated players, those who have tested positive in the past three months, and those who reach a certain threshold for antibodies may have shortened periods of isolation if they are asymptomatic and reach other markers. Masks will also not need to be worn in the dugout or bullpen, regardless of how many team members are vaccinated.

Adams said he would consult with experts to see if playing outdoors mitigated risk enough to consider a revision to the mandate. Currently, workplaces that fall under the mandate are defined as locations where someone works with another person, regardless of whether it is indoors or outdoors. Baseball players, though, still interact with coaches, clubhouse personnel and media in indoor spaces.

"It's a valid question — we are outdoors," Adams said. "There are so many different moving pieces of COVID. You know, COVID is not this one-size-fits-all, and if you're not wise enough to pivot and shift based on what you are facing, then you're making a big mistake. I'm going to pivot and shift. I'm not going to be rigid."

He said he would also be in contact with Major League Baseball which, up until late last week, believed unvaccinated Mets and Yankees would be allowed to play at home.

"How do we come to a solution here? That's my goal," Adams said. "My goal is to come to a solution that we're safe, we're able to get our economy back up and operating and don't damage the progress we have made."

Steinbrenner said that Adams’ hope for a resolution is "an optimistic statement. I think we all hope that. I would agree."

Adams added that, with Opening Day about three weeks away, there was time to evaluate various factors. He also said previously that it’s not fair to offer athletes a special exemption when other workers have gotten vaccinated under penalty of losing their jobs. Over 1,400 public-sector workers were fired last month after deciding not to get vaccinated; it’s unclear how many private-sector workers have been fired.

"They didn't have to cancel their season, because we had mandates in place," Adams said of New York’s baseball teams. "We're here, while schools are open, where businesses are open. Our city is not being closed down. Our hospitals are not being overrun. This is why we're here. And so I'm not looking at one person. I'm looking at my city not closing down again, not having to deal with this crisis again."

With David Lennon and Tim Healey

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