NEW YORK (AP) — New York City-based athletes and entertainers will no longer be subject to the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private-sector workers, Mayor Eric Adams announced on Thursday.
The move allows Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play home games, and lets unvaccinated baseball players take the field when their season begins. Speaking from a podium at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, Adams said he’s aware the decision to only lift the mandate for some workers will not be cheered by some but added that it was the right move for the city’s economic recovery.
“Today the decision we’re making, we’re not making it loosely … We’re doing it because the city has to function,” Adams said. “Some people will boo us and some people who will be employed will cheer us.”
The city’s sweeping vaccine mandate for workers will still apply to people with other types of jobs, including government employees. Adams on Wednesday was confronted by several people who said they were former city employees who were fired after refusing to comply with the mandate.
The mayor on Thursday repeatedly invoked the city’s unemployment rate as well as its reliance on the massive tourism, entertainment and nightlife industries in his decision to expand the exemption. He also said the goal of his administration was to slowly peel back the remaining COVID vaccine mandates and restrictions as long as the science and health data suggest it’s safe to do so.
When asked whether he was lobbied by leaders in professional sports, Adams denied the allegation. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen gave $1.5 million to a political action committee supporting Adams during his 2021 campaign. Adams is also a Mets fan.
The mayor said he still believes everyone should get vaccinated but he wanted to right a wrong in the original mandate. The mayor also thanked public and private New York City workers who got vaccinated, even if they didn’t want to.
“Kyrie, get vaccinated,” the mayor added, directly addressing the Brooklyn Nets star who was not at the news conference.
Ahead of the mayor’s announcement Thursday morning, the president of the PBA police union Patrick Lynch released a statement slamming the decision as pandering to “famous people.”
“We have been suing the city for months over its arbitrary and capricious vaccine mandate — this is exactly what we are talking about. If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting our city in the middle of a crime crisis,” he said. “While celebrities were in lockdown, New York City police officers were on the street throughout the pandemic, working without adequate PPE and in many cases contracting and recovering from COVID themselves. They don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens now.”
The city last month fired more than 1,400 workers who failed to comply with the vaccine mandate. The uneven application could likely invite more legal challenges over the mandate.
Jay Varma, a health advisor to de Blasio, said in a tweet that the mandate had legal standing because it applied to everyone.
“#VaccinesWork … unless you’re rich and powerful, in which case, #LobbyingWorks,” Varma wrote. He added: “The #KyrieCarveOut opens City up to entire scheme being voided by courts as “‘arbitrary and capricious.’”
Even if the mayor were to completely lift the vaccine mandates on private and public workers, sanitation union president Harry Nespoli said there should be a re-entry program for city employees who were fired over the requirement.
“When New York City shut down, many workers were mandated to come in every day without vaccines to keep the city running. These workers often got sick, and when they got better, came right back to work. There should be a re-entry program for workers to get their jobs back. There can’t be one system for the elite and another for the essential workers of our city. We stand ready to work out the details with the Mayor, as we have been throughout this process,” Nespoli said in a statement Thursday.
Adams has said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor former Mayor Bill de Blasio, allowed visiting players and performers who don’t work in New York to still play or perform even if they are unvaccinated.
Irving, a vaccine holdout, had been among the most high-profile people impacted. He was able to re-join the team in January but only when they played out-of-town games.
This month, concerns had been raised that the rule would also impact Major League Baseball, with it applying at the outdoor baseball parks in the Bronx and Queens.
Adams has been rolling back vaccine mandates and other COVID restrictions. On Tuesday, he said masks could become optional for children under 5 in public schools and day care centers starting April 4.
The mask mandate for children in K-12 public schools was lifted earlier in March, as well as rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym or attend a show or go to an indoor sporting event.