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New York City drops vaccine mandate for private employers

New York City is ending a policy that required all employees “who perform in-person work or interact with the public” to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New York City will drop its coronavirus vaccine mandate for private employers, Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced, describing the change as “additional flexibility.”

“This puts the choice in the hands of New York businesses, and it’s imperative that we’re asking them to continue to encourage their employees to get their vaccines and booster shots,” he said Tuesday.

The mandate, which will end Nov. 1, had previously required all employees “who perform in-person work or interact with the public” to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The policy faced opposition from vocal critics, including Brooklyn Nets star player Kyrie Irving.

In March, Adams amended the mandate, creating an exemption for unvaccinated performers and professional athletes so they could perform and play in public.

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The city now encourages private business to “put in place their own vaccine policies.” Adams made the announcement alongside the promotion of a citywide campaign to promote booster shots.

New coronavirus booster shots are available across the country. They have been geared toward the omicron variant of the coronavirus, as experts warn that this fall and winter could bring yet another surge in cases.

“The new bivalent booster is here, providing better protection against variants we are seeing now and quite likely against variants in the future as well,” Adams said.

“With so many tools now more easily accessible to keep New Yorkers safe” from covid-19, he said, the city would also end a mandate for students involved in extracurricular activities to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But ending the vaccine mandate for city employees was “not on the radar for us,” Adams said in comments to reporters.

Irving reacted to the news on Tuesday, tweeting that “If I can work and be unvaccinated, then all of my brothers and sisters who are also unvaccinated should be able to do the same, without being discriminated against, vilified, or fired.” He said that “this enforced Vaccine/Pandemic” was “one the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history.”

The changes are the latest loosening of covid-19 restrictions as major cities and Democratic-run states — some of the last bastions of pandemic-related policies — have dropped vaccine and mask rules over the past year. This month, New York state ended its mask requirement on public transit, though many passengers on the New York City subway had not abided by the rule for months. The D.C. Metro dropped its mask requirement in April.

Adams’s announcement also comes amid discussion this week about when exactly the pandemic will be “over.” President Biden, in an interview that aired Sunday on “60 Minutes,” said that “the pandemic is over,” though he noted that “we still have a problem with covid.”

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Biden’s comments prompted sharp criticism from some, who noted that there are still hundreds of deaths from covid-19 in the United States each day, but the remarks were welcomed by Republicans, many of whom have for months been pushing for pandemic-related restrictions and policies to end.

“Without a clear plan to wind down pandemic-era policies, the deficit will continue to balloon and the effectiveness of public health measures will wane as the American people continue to be confused by mixed messages and distrust of federal officials,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate’s health panel, wrote in a Monday letter sent to Biden and shared with The Washington Post.

When asked by a reporter about Biden’s comments, Adams said that “the most scary parts of the pandemic may be in our rearview mirror.”

But, he added, “there’s a possibility of another variant and we have to move in a very strategic and smart way. And so [Biden] may feel that this phase of what we have gone through, we’ve seen the worst of it, but we just don’t know what’s on the horizon for covid.”

As of Wednesday, nearly 400 Americans are dying each day of covid-19, based on a weekly average according to a Post tally. About 52,000 coronavirus cases are being reported daily on average, though experts say that current figures are likely an underestimate of the true number of cases, with many Americans doing tests at home, or not testing at all.