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New York's mayor announces a vaccine mandate for private companies

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

New York City has announced a vaccine mandate for private sector workers, the first of its kind in the country. Here's Elizabeth Kim of member station WNYC.

ELIZABETH KIM, BYLINE: Over the course of the last six months, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has become one of the most prominent proponents of vaccine mandates. The city has instituted a vaccine rule for everyone, from health care professionals and city workers to educators and restaurant employees. But on Monday, de Blasio, a two-term Democrat, announced on MSNBC that it was now time to include private sector employees who are working in person.

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BILL DE BLASIO: We've got omicron as a new factor. We've got the colder weather, which is going to really create additional challenges with the delta variant. We've got holiday gatherings. We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike.

KIM: The news caught the city's business community off guard. At the federal level, President Biden has sought to impose a vaccine mandate on companies with a hundred or more employees, but that effort was temporarily halted in court. Kathryn Wylde is the CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a group that represents leaders of the business community.

KATHRYN WYLDE: This does create some pressure, some confusion and add to the stress associated with return to the office.

KIM: Biden's order also allows private sector workers an option to test weekly in lieu of getting vaccinated. De Blasio's mandate does not, although it does allow for medical and religious exemptions. In addition to the mandate for private sector workers, New York's mayor also expanded the city's vaccine mandate for those who patronize restaurants, gyms and cultural venues to children ages 5 and up. Currently, the rule applies to those 12 and older. There's a reason why the city is focusing on young children. This group now has the highest infection rate in the city. De Blasio will also start requiring people 12 and up to show two shots of Pfizer or Moderna or one shot of Johnson & Johnson. Andrew Rigie represents the city's restaurant industry. He argues that all of this is just too much for tourists to absorb.

ANDREW RIGIE: You're not going to be able to see shows. You're not going to be able to dine in restaurants. You may have purchased tickets already, made reservations. It just poses a lot of complexities, really, at the last minute.

KIM: The new rules will start phasing in a little over a week. But health experts have praised de Blasio for embracing mandates. There's evidence that mandates work. Vaccinations in New York started to pick up in the summer after the first wave of mandates. Today, around 78% of city residents have received one dose. That's higher than the national average. Dr. Zeke Emanuel was an adviser in the Obama administration. He joined the mayor via Zoom on Monday and said getting people vaccinated is critical to getting control of COVID.

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ZEKE EMANUEL: Mandates have proven very effective, even among the most resistant groups. They have dramatically increased the number of people who've been vaccinated, who've been sitting on the fence, hesitant. They finally get the shot.

KIM: There is, however, one problem. De Blasio's vaccine mandate for private sector workers won't take effect until December 27. That's four days before he is set to leave office. And it's not clear where the incoming Democratic mayor, Eric Adams, stands on the issue. A spokesman for Adams issued a statement saying that the mayor-elect will evaluate the mandate when he takes office.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Kim in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORIAN HOEFNER GROUP'S "THE LONG RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.