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September 20, 2022, 5:11 PM

NYC Mayor Adams ends COVID vaccine mandates for private sector, student athletes — but city worker rule stays

By Michael Gartland and Chris Sommerfeldt

The city’s coronavirus vaccine mandates for private sector workers and student athletes are ending, but the inoculation requirement for municipal workers will remain — at least for the time being.

Mayor Adams announced the rollback Tuesday at a City Hall press conference, stressing the need for New Yorkers to get their COVID booster shots.

Implemented by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the private sector and student mandates have been in effect since late last year.

The workforce rule, which was the first of its kind in the country when rolled out by de Blasio in December, required that all private sector employees in the city be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That mandate will sunset on Nov. 1.

The second policy, which mandated high school students be vaccinated to engage in sports and other extracurricular activities, ended Tuesday.

Adams attempted to temper his announcement with another message: that New Yorkers should get new booster shots aimed at protecting against highly transmissible COVID variants. To reinforce that, he got his second booster shot from the city’s Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan in front of a roomful of reporters.

“It is time to move on to the next level of fortifying our city,” Adams said. “It’s imperative to send the right message and lead by example as I’m doing today by getting my booster shot.”

Adams framed the rescinding of the mandates as providing more “flexibility” to parents and businesses regarding vaccines.

He noted that his shot Tuesday is just the first step in a new citywide digital and print vaccination campaign to encourage booster shots.

But even as Adams and Vasan announced the new campaign and the end of the two mandates, they struggled to explain the rationale behind enacting the one rollback while continuing to keep in place the mandate that city employees must be vaccinated — a contentious rule that led to workers being fired, lawsuits and political protests.

“We’re in a steady phase of pivot and shift,” the mayor said when asked if he plans to peel back the mandate on city workers. “We do things. We roll things out slowly. Right now, that is not on the radar for us.”

When asked how he can justify his decision, Adams said: “I don’t think anything dealing with COVID makes sense, and there’s no logical pathway of [what] one can do. You make the decisions based on how to keep our city safe, how to keep our employees operating.”

Vasan responded that it’s important to not view “any of these decisions in isolation.”

“They’re all connected,” he said, referring to the city’s COVID policies. “We’re looking at all of our policies and thinking about a glide path towards normal, whatever the new normal looks like.”

It didn’t take long for critics to pounce on Adams’ decision to keep in place the public sector vaccine mandate.

“This announcement is more proof that the vaccine mandate for New York City police officers is arbitrary, capricious and fundamentally irrational,” said PBA President Patrick Lynch. “Now that the city has abandoned any pretense of a public health justification for vaccine mandates, we expect it to settle our pending lawsuits and reinstate with back pay our members who unjustly lost their jobs.”

City Council Republicans and moderate Democrats who make up the body’s so-called “Common Sense Caucus” praised the mayor’s decision, but also voiced their hope that Adams would bring an end to the public sector mandate. The caucus met with Adams two weeks ago to discuss the policy.

“This is a significant step toward correcting the errors and inequitable policies of the previous administration,” the caucus said in a written statement. “We will continue engaging with the mayor and his administration to also end the public employee COVID vaccine mandate and bring back city workers who were placed on leave or fired due to their vaccination status.”

Since taking office in January, Adams has moved methodically to lift various COVID-19 restrictions put in place by de Blasio. This spring, he removed the indoor vaccine mandate for restaurants and bars. He squashed the mask requirements in public schools around the same time.

But he’s continued to stand by the vaccine mandate for the city’s municipal workforce.

“It was crucial to put that in place and we’re keeping it in place,” he said Tuesday.

The mandate has required the city’s more than 300,000 municipal workers — including teachers, cops and firefighters — to be fully vaccinated. The rule has for months prompted loud protests from a small group of unvaccinated city workers as well as Republicans in the City Council.

Despite the focus on the municipal mandate, only 1,761 city employees had gotten fired for refusing to get vaccinated as of Aug. 30, according to data from the mayor’s office.

According to data from the Health Department, the city’s COVID-19 death and hospitalization rates have trended steadily downward for months. However, dozens of New Yorkers are still dying from the virus every week, the data shows.

Additionally, COVID-19 case rates have ticked up slightly in recent weeks, with the current test positivity average topping 9%.

COVID-19 transmission tends to get worse during the winter months, and some public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have raised concern about the possibility that another variant of the virus could be forthcoming.

Adams said he shares those concerns — and did not appear to agree with President Biden’s recent assessment that “the pandemic is over.”

“There is the possibility of another variant,” Adams said. “We just don’t know what’s on the horizon.”