Vaccination will be required for air travel if new legislation passes; lawsuit against vax passes is filed

Coronavirus

NEW YORK  — A week from Monday, people in New York will be required to show proof of vaccination in order to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other fitness facilities, movie theaters, and live theaters.  

Airplanes will be added to that list, nationally, if some federal and local legislators get their way.  

At the same time, though, one federal elected official from our area is leading an effort by local legislators and businesses to sue the city over its vaccination requirement.  

Both sides were visible and vocal on Friday.

The effort to require proof of vaccination for air travel is being led by Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from the Bronx, who’s also the vice chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

“When I’m going through security at JFK or LaGuardia,” Torres said at a Friday morning news conference, “I have to show my passport, and I should have to show my proof of vaccination as well.”

Torres introduced legislation requiring proof of vaccination to board flights.  He also wrote an official letter to the agency responsible for keeping airports safe. 

“To the secretary of Homeland Security,” Torres said in an interview, “calling upon his agency to immediately implement a vaccination mandate, in the absence of legislation.”

Joining Torres in the effort is New York City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine.  

He said that with New York being by far the busiest air travel destination in the country, and the second busiest in the world, the new legislation is vital to New Yorkers.  

“There are dozens of flights landing in JFK and Laguardia every single day from Texas, Florida, and other hot spots,” Levine said in an interview. “There is no doubt that unvaccinated people on those flights are bringing the virus into New York City. “

Torres and Levine made a joint appearance on the same day that United Airlines announced that all of its employees must be vaccinated within five weeks of either a full FDA approval of a coronavirus vaccine or five weeks after Sept. 20, whichever comes first.  

As for passengers having to show proof of vaccination, ones who spoke with PIX11 News at JFK Airport on Friday were in favor.

“It’s safer for everybody,” said one woman, as she rushed her family to a departing plane.

Kara Haley was also at the airport, to pick up her son from a flight from Iceland.

“We need to be making sure,” she said, “that those of us that have taken steps to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens are not being harmed by those who haven’t.”

Still, the congressman said that he’s expecting some opposition to the measure, even though he’s optimistic that it will become law.

It’s similar to the city’s vaccination requirement, called the Key to NYC Pass.

On Friday, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican whose district is Staten Island and southwest Brooklyn, led a lawsuit by elected officials and business owners from Staten Island that attempts to block the vaccination pass from being implemented.  

“The government shouldn’t be imposing such a mandate on its people and on the small business owners,”  Malliotakis said at a rally in Staten Island with leaders of some of the groups that filed the lawsuit.  

Charlie Cassara, a gym owner and president of the Fitness Coalition, said that the vaccination requirement for admission to his fitness facility is an overreach by the government.

“The city does not tell us who we can serve, for any reason,” he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city has U.S. Justice Department approval for its vaccination requirement.  It’s set to be implemented on August 16, and to be enforced beginning September 13.

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