New York City plans to require visitors and staff members at museums and other cultural institutions to be vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.
“Defeating the Delta variant is the best way to support cultural institutions, because it brings us all back,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference at which he outlined the new requirements. He said that “we believe, if we take these aggressive measure, this is going to encourage a lot of people — audience members and staff alike — to get vaccinated.”
The new vaccine mandate for museums came as the city expanded its “Key to NYC” program, which requires vaccinations in a number of settings, to include “bars, fitness gyms, movie and stage theaters, museums and other indoor venues.” The policy will take effect Tuesday, but enforcement will not begin until Sept. 13 to educate the public and give venues time to adjust.
Children younger than age 12, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, will have to be accompanied by a vaccinated person and will be encouraged to wear masks, city officials said.
“We’re saying get at least the first vaccination — of course the goal is to get everyone fully vaccinated — but get at least the first vaccination and you’ll be able to work or enjoy indoor dining, indoor fitness, indoor entertainment, concerts, movie theaters,” the mayor said as he outlined the requirements. The city plans to conduct a $10 million media campaign to inform the public of the new requirements, according to city officials.
The 34 museums and arts groups operating in city-owned buildings or on city-owned land — known as members of the Cultural Institutions Group — and other arts organizations had been in discussions over the last few weeks with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
There was broad consensus among those arts organizations — as well as others that are not city-owned — in favor of a vaccination mandate.
“Everyone wants their audiences and their employees to be safe,” said Lucy Sexton, the executive director of New Yorkers for Culture & Arts, an advocacy group. Ms. Sexton — together with Taryn Sacramone, the executive director of the Queens Theater and Sade Lythcott, the chief executive of the National Black Theater — leads a daily Zoom call with more than 200 arts leaders to pool support and information amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Proof of vaccination can include a photo or hard copy of an official vaccination card, the state’s Excelsior Pass, New York City vaccination apps or an official vaccine record for authorized vaccines.
“The City’s recovery depends on culture coming back strong,” said Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, the chairman of the City Council committee that oversees cultural affairs. “Our audiences must feel safe and vaccine mandates are necessary for that to happen. With variants surging, people will want to know that the person sitting next to them in the theater or standing next to them at the Met are vaccinated also. This is the smart thing to do for everyone — patrons, artists and staff.”
The announcement was delayed by several sticking points, namely whether vaccinations would be required of staff members as well as visitors, which some feared could raise thorny employment law issues, though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that companies can mandate vaccines as a requirement for coming to work.
And there were concerns about whether the mandate would disproportionately affect people of color at a moment when cultural institutions have been making a concerted effort to diversify their audiences and invite greater access. Recent city data showed that only 28 percent of Black New Yorkers between the ages 18 to 44 were fully vaccinated.
Mr. de Blasio said that he would push ahead with the city’s efforts to get cultural institutions to diversify their audiences, boards and staffs but that the current crisis called for instituting a vaccine mandate. “This moment with the Delta variant is a very, very challenging moment but it is also a temporary reality,” he said.
Cultural institutions were also concerned about lost revenue and any added costs of enforcing the new regulations, given that they are already operating at reduced hours and reduced capacity. “We were the first to be shut and we were the last to reopen,” Ms. Sexton said. “The whole field has not been given the measure of relief others have.”
Asked about this economic argument, Mr. de Blasio said the city had already “increased cultural funding in a variety of ways.”
“We do not anticipate providing additional resources,” he added. “We think this is something manageable people can do.”
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Gonzalo Casals, who last year became New York City’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner, through a spokesman declined to comment.
Leonard Jacobs, the interim executive director of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens, said in an email interview that questions remain “around how we’ll be expected to enforce this policy, and whether we’ll need resources to do so.”
“We’re confident that the mayor will provide guidance that will allow us to operate safely,” he added, “and continue on our mission to the community of Southeast Queens.”
Ken Weine, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said in a statement that the museum was “wholly supportive” of the new policy. “While our visitor numbers have grown each month —- and now more than half come from outside New York City —- the Mayor is exactly right that the only route to continued progress is higher vaccination rates,” Mr. Weine said.
Earlier this month, Mr. de Blasio announced that vaccinations would be required for indoor concerts — as well as for gyms and restaurants — becoming the first U.S. city to issue such a mandate.
The mayor said that it was vital for New York City to safely bring back its cultural sector.
“We are defined by our arts and culture in this city,” the mayor said, “so having arts and culture come back meant a huge amount to New Yorkers and gave a lot of people hope.”
“All these pieces lead us forward,” he said, “to the day when we won’t need these rules and our cultural institutions can open 110 percent.”