New York City will require proof of vaccination for workers and customers at indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

De Blasio announced the “Key to NYC Pass,” what he said is a first-in-the-U.S. requirement for employees and indoor venue-goers. The policy, enacted via mayoral executive order and a health department order, will be launched Aug. 16 and phased in, with enforcement beginning Sept. 13.

“Not everyone’s going to agree with this, I understand this,” de Blasio said Monday at a virus briefing. “But for so many people, this is going to be a lifesaving act.”

The move by de Blasio is the latest step to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated. The mayor is requiring city workers to get COVID-19 shots or be tested weekly, while all new hires by the city must be inoculated.


‘Clear mandates’

“It’s all about vaccination,” the mayor said. “We know that strong, clear mandates help.”

Some of New York’s most famous dining rooms already require vaccinations, including Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe. Broadway venues also are requiring them.

Equinox Group said Monday that members, riders and employees will be required to show vaccine proof to enter its Equinox gyms, SoulCycle studios and corporate offices in New York City starting in early September.

“We’ve seen leaders in the private sector blaze the trail here,” de Blasio said.

The move by New York City drew mixed reactions across the restaurant industry, which has grappled with the inherent conflicts of boosting sales while keeping customers safe.

Jeffrey Bank, the chief executive officer of Alicart, which has several restaurants in the city, said he supports the effort to ensure public safety. But eateries in tourist-heavy parts of New York, where patrons are less likely to be vaccinated, could have greater difficulty keeping up with the requirements.

“I’m concerned with enforcing the mandate in Times Square,” he said.


New burden

In a survey by food market research firm Datassential, conducted before the U.S. updated its masking guidance on July 27, consumers were less willing to show proof of vaccination than wear masks if restaurants required it. Nearly one-third of respondents said they would leave if asked to prove vaccination, and many among the vaccine-skeptical crowd said they likely would not return.

The National Restaurant Association trade group said in a statement that while it supports vaccination efforts, de Blasio’s move puts a new burden on restaurant employees, who already faced a “terrifying backlash” last year when enforcing mask mandates. Aaron Allen, principal at consulting firm Aaron Allen & Associates, went a step further, calling it “a stunning overreach by government.”

For some, though, the benefits outweigh the burdens. Amanda Cohen, owner of Dirt Candy, said “it feels a lot better to have it be the rule of law across the board” rather than leaving it up to individual establishments whether to enforce such a requirement.

“The safety of our staff family and our guests are our main concern,” Tren’ness Woods-Black, of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, said during de Blasio’s briefing. “It is a matter of life and death here.”


Delta’s spread

De Blasio is focusing on requirements for vaccines, rather than masks, to deal with delta. The mayor has stopped short of mandating masks in indoor places for vaccinated residents, saying he wants to preserve an incentive for people to get their shots. The city also offered US$100 incentives, and 11,000 New Yorkers have stepped up to collect, the mayor said.

As of Aug. 3, 66.2 per cent of New York City residents are fully vaccinated, according to city data. Still, cases are climbing as the contagious delta variant spreads. Delta makes up 72 per cent of tested cases in New York City in the last four weeks.

De Blasio said he hoped his requirement would be a model for the nation. He was joined virtually at his briefing by national health experts, including former White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt.

“This will be copied around the country,” Slavitt said. “This will stand between this being another bad year and a year when people get their lives back.”


Vaccine passports

For now, Chicago isn’t planning to require vaccinations at indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues.

“It’s a really big decision,” Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a press conference on Tuesday when asked about New York’s move.

New York state this year launched a digital vaccine passport called the Excelsior Pass, similar to a mobile airline boarding pass, that businesses and venues can scan to verify proof of negative COVID-19 tests results or proof of vaccination. More than 2 million passes have been issued, according to the governor’s office.

De Blasio said that patrons and workers can show their Excelsior Pass, a city-issued vaccine pass or their vaccination card as proof.

New York City, the early center of the coronavirus pandemic, is trying to balance a reopening of its economy with a recent surge in cases, largely among the unvaccinated. The city’s seven-day average of new cases has climbed to 1,288 as of Aug. 1, from 709 on July 19. Hospitalizations also are climbing, though at a much slower rate.

“Vaccines are how we reopen businesses and offices,” Celine Grounder, an epidemiologist who advised the Biden administration, said on de Blasio’s call. “Anything to encourage people to get vaccinated and get back to life as New Yorkers.”