When outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate for private businesses, its future was thrown into doubt by the fact that it would take effect during his last week in office.
Adding to the uncertainty, his successor, Eric Adams, declined repeatedly to take a position on the policy. Business owners who opposed it harbored hopes that he would promptly abandon it come January.
But on Thursday, with the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus driving up case counts across New York City, Mr. Adams declared that he would maintain the private-sector mandate, a move that Mr. de Blasio lauded on Twitter as “THE right call.”
“The day has come when we must learn to be smarter, live with Covid and ensure that we protect everyday New Yorkers,” Mr. Adams said. “And that is what I am going to do.”
Mr. Adams also endorsed Mr. de Blasio’s plan to reopen public schools on Monday after the holiday recess, rather than pivot to remote learning amid this latest surge in cases. The plan allows schoolchildren to remain in class after being exposed to the virus, provided they take at-home tests distributed by the school, have a negative result and have no symptoms.
Schools, Mr. Adams said, are “right now the safest place for our children on so many levels.”
The incoming mayor’s embrace of his predecessor’s Covid-19 policies comes after the city set a one-day record for virus cases for the fourth time in a week, with 43,985 people testing positive on Wednesday. The spike has caused crippling shortages of workers that have forced restaurants to close, subway lines to shut down and Broadway theaters to shutter. Concerns about the virus even caused the Westminster Kennel Club to postpone its January show.
Across the city, the test positivity rate is above 20 percent. Hospitals are seeing hundreds of new Covid-19 patients a day, although many of them are far less sick than patients in previous virus waves, doctors and hospital officials say. As of Wednesday, there were more than 3,500 Covid-19 patients in New York City hospitals. About 420 were in intensive care.
On Thursday, Mr. Adams outlined a series of policies that, he acknowledged, closely resembled Mr. de Blasio’s. Those included directing resources to public hospitals and the city’s health department, and assisting nursing homes, homeless shelters and jails, where the virus has run rampant. He said he would continue policies to increase virus testing resources; equitably allocate antibody and antiviral treatments; and distribute high-quality masks.
Mr. Adams also pledged to study the possibility of requiring booster shots and he raised the possibility of asking state officials to require vaccinations for schoolchildren.
Speaking to reporters from Brooklyn Borough Hall, where he is serving the last days of his term as borough president, Mr. Adams unveiled his plans alongside Mr. de Blasio’s health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, who will stay in his job for three months after Mr. Adams takes office.
“We believe this administration has done a good job in addressing the virus,” Mr. Adams said. He added, however, that he wanted to “improve on” the way Mr. de Blasio had communicated the city’s pandemic policies.
“If I was to critique any part of what was done, many people found out information after the fact,” Mr. Adams said. “I don’t want to do that.”
Mr. Adams has also indicated that he would continue Mr. de Blasio’s orders requiring the city’s 300,000 employees to get vaccinated. Since the mandate’s October announcement, more than 30,000 city employees have gotten a first vaccine dose. Overall, 95 percent of city workers have gotten at least one dose.
Mr. Adams’s embrace of the private-sector mandate drew sharply mixed reactions. The mandate required employees at businesses of all sizes to have gotten at least one shot by last Monday and to get a second shot within 45 days. Employers can face fines of up to $1,000 for not complying.
Richard Gottfried, the long-serving chair of the State Assembly’s health committee, applauded the move, as did Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“Vaccines remain the way we get out of this pandemic,” Dr. Jha said. “And asking employers, private and public, to make sure their employees are vaccinated — which creates a much safer working environment — I think it’s essential.”
In Boerum Hill, a section of Brooklyn where the vaccination rate is high, one business owner shrugged at the news.
“We’re in the heart of Blue Brooklyn,” said Amy Glosser, the owner of BYKlyn, a cycling studio. “There’s no resistance to that at all.”
But on Staten Island, where vaccine resistance has run high, the borough’s Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment, and two lawyers pledged to challenge the mandate in court next week.
In an interview, one of the lawyers, Louis Gelormino, said he had already signed up some 200 plaintiffs to challenge Mr. de Blasio’s mandate, but had held off on filing a lawsuit to see whether Mr. Adams continued it. Mr. Gelormino and his partner, Mark Fonte, also represented the owner of a Staten Island tavern who defied city restrictions on indoor dining and declared his establishment an “autonomous zone.”
“The courts have upheld their power to mandate their employees, meaning New York City municipal employees,” Mr. Gelormino said. “But as far as dictating what private employers do, I don’t see where they draw that kind of power.”
Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents major corporations, lamented the lack of consistency between New York City’s more stringent private-sector vaccine mandate, and President Biden’s. The national policy, which has been repeatedly challenged in court, would apply only to large businesses, and contains a provision allowing unvaccinated people to opt-out if they get tested.
“For large businesses with a global and national footprint, consistency between federal policies and state and local policies on vaccine and mask mandates and Covid protocols generally is really important,” Ms. Wylde said. “And the de Blasio policy is not consistent in terms of timing or terms with the Biden policy.”
Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, hailed the plan’s emphasis on equity in the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral pills, given the disparate impacts that New Yorkers of color have experienced during the pandemic.
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He also applauded Mr. Adams’s pledge to distribute two million high-quality masks to New Yorkers, a continuation of the city’s existing efforts, and to improve conditions in congregate settings like jails and nursing homes.
But Dr. Nash cautioned that the “devil is in the details,” and details were scant: On Thursday, Mr. Adams’s team distributed just a single page of bullets points about his Covid-19 policies.
Mr. Adams’s vow to immediately study whether to require booster shots “for all New Yorkers currently covered by vaccine mandates” also drew praise from some experts.
Booster shots are believed to provide added protection against severe illness. Initial studies also suggest that they increase the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing symptomatic infection from the Omicron variant.
Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a Columbia University epidemiology professor, said that requiring that people who are subject to vaccine mandates get booster shots was a sound policy. But she questioned whether there was any reason to delay.
“Why wait?” she asked, noting the soaring number of Omicron infections. She added: “To me it is imperative that the boosters be mandated as quickly as possible.”
Responding to Mr. Adams’s pledge to study vaccine mandates for schoolchildren, Jessica Justman, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiology professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, recommended instead allowing a weekly testing option for families opposed to vaccinating their children.
That approach, she asserted, might convince more families to have their children vaccinated without inciting the kind of fierce resistance a blanket vaccine requirement could draw.
Fewer than 40 percent of children 5 to 12 have gotten a first dose of vaccine in New York City, according to Health Department data.
“If the end result is you want as many people to go along with it as possible, sometimes you have to coax and persuade and allow for options, rather than coming down with the hammer of a mandate,” Dr. Justman said.