NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday he decided to waive the Covid-19 vaccine requirement for local athletes and performers since it put them at a hometown disadvantage and hurt the economy, while the heads of public sector unions called the move unfair since their members must still abide by the mandate.
“This is about putting New York City-based performers on a level playing field,” Adams said at a Citi Field press conference flanked by the presidents of the Mets and Yankees. He said the rule instituted by former Mayor Bill de Blasio that exempted out-of-town athletes from the vaccine mandates gave hometown players an “unfair disadvantage. ”
“It’s unimagineable we treated our performers different because they lived and played for home teams. It’s not acceptable,” Adams said.
He signed an executive order adding local athletes and performers to the exemption that already existed for their out-of-town counterparts. He pegged the timing of the expansion to the city’s low Covid case rate and the start of the Major League Baseball season.
Adams said the additional exemption would boost the city’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry that’s been struggling to recover since the coronavirus pandemic first shut New York down over two years ago.
“Today, the decision we’re making, we’re not making it loosely, or haphazardly. We’re not doing it because there are pressures to do it. We’re doing it because the city has to function. We’re leading the entire country for the most part in unemployment. We’re seeing unbelievable vacancies in our business district,” Adams said.
Labor leaders were furious by what they viewed as a special carveout for sports stars. The rule had benched Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving during home games.
“I wish the same consideration was given to all city employees, the true heroes that kept the city safe and running during the height of the pandemic,” said Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains’ Association whose members work in local jails.
During his last month in office, de Blasio expanded Covid requirements to include a vaccine mandate for all private employees. Public sector workers were already required to get the shot. In Februrary Adams axed over 1,400 municipal employees who wouldn’t get vaccinated including members of the NYPD, FDNY and Department of Education.
Paul DiGiacomo, head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, criticized the decision for public safety reasons, which the mayor himself has called his number one priority. “It doesn’t make common sense. And we’re losing, in particular, the rank of the detectives, a tremendous amount of talent it takes many years to obtain in special units such as crime scene, emergency service, homicide, precinct detective squads and counterterrorism units. And it’s counterproductive to the safety for the people of the city,” DiGiacomo said.
Finally, Staten Island City Council Member Joe Borelli, the body’s minority leader, echoed the concerns of union heads.
“Let’s be clear, we are making this change because we are one of the only places on earth still paralyzed by the ridiculous mandates that did little to alleviate Covid. Maybe we should open our eyes and not continue following the lead of the most panicked among us, at least then we would spend less time pondering the mysteries of how Covid affects ushers but not basketball players, unless they’re in high school, then it’s a high risk. None of this makes sense,” Borelli said.
Adams called the city employees who did get vaccinated heroes, but said the ones who lost their jobs over the requirement would not be reinstated.
The city’s health commissioner was not at the briefing, but the president of the public hospital system, Mitch Katz, answered a question from the press about his take on the change.
“I think as the mayor has said, I mean this is what he’s doing today, he’s righting an unfairness that doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t follow the science,” Katz said.
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