Mayor Bill de Blasio urged on Friday that New York City’s private businesses require their workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and signaled that he would introduce similar measures for hundreds of thousands of municipal employees.
The mayor’s comments came just days after he announced that all employees in the public hospital system would have to either receive a virus vaccine or submit to weekly testing.
The move reflected growing concern that New York, like much of the United States, is on the verge of another wave of the pandemic. In just a few weeks, case counts in the city have tripled, to more than 650 a day on average, while inoculation rates have leveled off.
“If people want freedom, if people want jobs, if people want to live again, we have got to get more people vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said on Friday during a weekly radio appearance on WNYC. “And obviously it’s time for whatever mandates we can achieve.”
“I’m calling upon all New York City employers, including our private hospitals: Move immediately to some form of mandate, whatever the maximum you feel you can do,” he added.
Across the country, government officials and private businesses have increasingly debated whether to require vaccinations, as the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus surges in many regions. Still, moves to adopt such measures have been limited.
Some hospitals and health care systems, including NewYork-Presbyterian and Trinity Health, have announced vaccine mandates, in some cases touching off union protests. The National Football League said it could penalize teams with players who refuse to get vaccinated. Delta Air Lines will require new employees to be vaccinated, but it will not expect the same of its current workers. And a federal judge this week ruled that Indiana University could require vaccinations for students and staff members for the fall semester.
Requiring vaccinations has been less common among municipal governments, which have faced strong opposition from unions. Last month, San Francisco became one of the first major American cities to announce that all of its workers, more than 35,000 people, would have to receive a vaccine or risk disciplinary action.
The move will take effect, the authorities said, after the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of at least one of the three vaccines now being administered under an emergency order. After the agency’s approval, San Francisco’s employees will have 10 weeks to get vaccinated, they added. A subset of workers, those in high-risk settings like jails and nursing homes, must be vaccinated by Sept. 15.
Still, for government officials who have seemed wary about forcing the coronavirus vaccine on the population at large, requiring public employees to get the shots is a potentially powerful tool for mitigating another wave of the pandemic, experts say. And Mr. de Blasio’s effort to pull in private employers may also seem critical, as many companies return to in-person work in the fall and students go back to school.
Although nearly five million New York City residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, the speed at which new shots are being administered has slowed. Nationally, 57 percent of Americans have gotten at least one vaccine dose; 49 percent are fully vaccinated.
New York City officials have tried everything from mobile vaccination sites to in-home vaccination visits to offering incentives like cash and movie tickets, but they have yet to see a significant rise in inoculations. Even vaccinations among employees of many city agencies — including the Police Department, the Fire Department and the public schools — have remained below the citywide rate of full vaccination among adults, 65 percent.
“We have reached the limits of purely voluntary,” Mr. de Blasio said on Friday. “It’s time for more mandates.”
Other cities experiencing rising case counts have taken more limited actions. Chicago has urged residents traveling to certain states to get tested when they return, and the city’s mayor warned that restrictions on businesses and activities could soon be imposed again. Los Angeles recently reinstated an indoor mask requirement, including for vaccinated residents. But a city official said it was also considering a vaccine mandate like San Francisco’s.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that residents would be required to show proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or recovery from Covid-19 to enter most public events and venues, including restaurants and movie theaters. Vaccination appointments in the country surged in the days after the announcement, although the requirement also led to protests.
A spokesman for Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City and Mr. de Blasio’s likely successor, said Mr. Adams agreed “with the mayor’s plan to test high-risk workers much more frequently” but declined to say whether Mr. Adams supported vaccine requirements.
“The increase in positive tests and hospitalizations is concerning, and Eric has said continually that people who are not vaccinated should get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said the spokesman, Evan Thies.
Brad Lander, a City Council member who recently won the Democratic primary to be the city’s next comptroller, called on Friday for a vaccine requirement for all municipal workers and a vaccination requirement for residents seeking to take part in activities like movies and dining at restaurants.
“The Delta variant is requiring us to take bolder action if we want to save the lives of our neighbors and actually have an economic recovery for our city,” Mr. Lander said in an interview, pointing to guidance from health experts.
Mr. de Blasio indicated that he would “seriously consider” a mandate like the one in France, and he suggested that San Francisco’s restriction on its work force was “the shape of things to come — more and more mandates of different kinds.”
Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a major business group, said about a quarter of the companies that her group had surveyed said they were requiring vaccinations for workers returning to the office. Others are offering regular testing and incentives for those who are not vaccinated.
But Ms. Wylde said that employers believed it would be difficult for them to require vaccination on their own.
“New York City employers would be relieved if the federal government issued some kind of a vaccine mandate,” Ms. Wylde said.
Some of the city’s business leaders said that such a requirement would be a burden for employers, who must navigate the complexities and legal liabilities related to policing their workers’ vaccination status.
The issue can be particularly thorny for smaller, family-owned businesses.
“How do you tell someone in your own family that you should get vaccinated or you can’t come to work?” said Randy Peers, the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
President Biden has so far been reluctant to embrace requirements for vaccines or masks, despite calls from some public health experts that insisting people get shots is the only way to ensure that a larger share of the population is vaccinated.
On Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said it was not the federal government’s role to impose a nationwide mandate.
“There will be institutions, there will be private sector companies and others who make decisions about how to keep their community safe,” Ms. Psaki said. “That’s certainly appropriate.”
Ms. Psaki also said there had been “encouraging data” showing that the five states with the highest case rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — have seen upticks in the number of people getting vaccinated.
“That is a good sign,” she said, adding that “in the past 10 days, more than 5.2 million Americans have gotten a shot.”
Despite his plea to private employers, Mr. de Blasio did not offer details about how he would expand vaccination efforts among the more than 300,000 people who work for the city government, saying only, “We’re going to say things when we’re ready to say them.”
It was only recently that the mayor became receptive to adopting the requirement he placed on the city’s 42,244 public hospital employees, an idea that had been discussed for months, according to a city official with knowledge of the deliberations who did not want to be publicly identified speaking on such matters.
Mr. de Blasio initially resisted the move, the official said, fearing that anything that smacked of a mandate would be unpopular and provoke resistance from unions, but the ferocity of the Delta variant ultimately swayed him. In recent days, the mayor has grown more comfortable with the idea of instituting similar requirements more broadly across the municipal work force, the official said.
A second city official, who also did not want to be identified, said that Mr. de Blasio intends to announce plans next week — possibly as early as Monday — to expand the weekly testing requirement to other unvaccinated city employees.
Many of the city’s workers are represented by unions that have already expressed opposition to vaccine mandates.
State employees, including those who work for New York’s public transit system, are not currently subject to vaccine mandates.
In May, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state did not have the authority to impose such a requirement until the vaccines had received full federal approval, which is expected to come sometime in the fall.
Most state employees, including transit workers, are not subject to regular testing requirement. Beth Garvey, Mr. Cuomo’s acting counsel, said there were no immediate plans to impose new testing requirements on state workers.
For the most part, state employees who are unvaccinated must wear masks, maintain social distancing and undergo health screenings every day, she said.
Ms. Garvey also said she did not believe state officials currently had the power to introduce a French-style requirement of proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test in certain settings, like dining.
Although the state previously imposed such requirements for certain venues and large events — prompting the creation of a vaccine passport that has proved controversial — the state of emergency declaration that authorized those measures has expired.
But Ms. Garvey said that private businesses, including restaurants and entertainment venues, could still impose such restrictions on patrons.
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