NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio has about a month left before he leaves office, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking bold steps in the fight against COVID-19.
The mayor on Monday announced a new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private sector workers in the city and expanded the Key to NYC requirements for indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment venues to include children ages 5 to 11 — all this in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, including the new omicron variant, during the holiday season and long winter months.
Private sector employees have until Dec. 27 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but details on who will enforce the requirement or the potential consequences of not getting the shot remain sparse.
De Blasio joined the PIX11 Morning News on Tuesday to discuss the vaccine mandate and the threat posed by the omicron variant. The mayor said his decision to expand the mandate to the private sector came down to avoiding potential shutdowns that could upend the economy.
“Let’s remember why we’re doing this. We know something already about the omicron variant. This variant moves fast; we have to move faster. We have to protect the lives of New Yorkers. We have to make sure we never go back to shutdowns and restrictions,” de Blasio said. “We can’t let that happen in New York City.”
The mayor said his office will work with private sector employers to determine the rules for the vaccine mandate and guidelines will be released on Dec. 15. He pointed to the Key to NYC vaccine requirement for indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues as a model for the private sector mandate but stopped short of offering clear-cut outcomes for anyone who refuses the vaccine.
“If someone absolutely, positively won’t, well there are a couple of different ways to approach that depending on the circumstances. For example, if it’s a medical reason, there is a process for getting a medical exemption,” he said. “But honestly, what we find is when the moment of truth comes, it’s actually a requirement, people make the decision to get vaccinated overwhelmingly.”
The mayor said business owners asked him for a universal private sector mandate.
“A lot of them said to me, ‘it’s tough for us to require it of our employees. But if the government does it, then we can say to everyone, hey this is something for everyone,’” de Blasio said.
When asked about enforcement and whether an employer could refuse to pay a worker who doesn’t get vaccinated, de Blasio said those are the types of questions that will be answered in the guidance released on Dec. 15.
With the arrival of the omicron variant during the holiday season, when more people gather indoors with family and friends, de Blasio said the city is facing new health threats that need to be mitigated before they get out of control.
“You put these pieces together, we needed a preemptive strike here. We needed to get ahead of this,” he said.
The mayor also encouraged Gov. Kathy Hochul to consider mimicking his municipal employee vaccine mandate on a statewide level, which would include MTA employees who work in the city.
As for the expanded Key to NYC vaccine mandate for children ages 5 to 11 years old, de Blasio said he does not believe tourists will be deterred from coming to the city.
“First of all, we are seeing overwhelmingly that folks who are traveling are vaccinated,” he said. “If this is an incentive for anyone to get their child vaccinated … that’s great.”
Looking ahead to what’s in store after he leaves office in January and whether he will run for governor, de Blasio said he’s focused on protecting New Yorkers from COVID and the city’s economic recovery.
“I’m going to speak about the future in the weeks ahead. But one thing I know … I want to serve people in this city and in this state. I’m going to be going around this state talking to people about what I think is important for our future.”