Mayor Bill De Blasio announced a first-in-the-nation mandate on Tuesday requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to go to gyms, dine inside restaurants and participate in other public indoor activities.
The new rule, which rolls out on Aug. 16 and will be enforced starting Sept. 13, builds on previous mandates announced last week requiring that city employees must show proof of vaccination.
And it comes after de Blasio dangled $100 for anyone who steps up to get a shot at city-run vaccine sites — a pledge that has captured public attention but may be undermining other efforts to coax unvaccinated New Yorkers to get their doses, according to health groups. The challenge is steepest in The Bronx, which has the lowest vaccination rate of any borough.
Speaking at his daily morning news conference on Tuesday, De Blasio said he hopes the new mandate will help spur vaccinations ahead of schools reopening to help stave off a third pandemic wave due to the Delta variant.
“The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we’re going to stop the Delta variant, the time is now. And that means getting vaccinated right now,” he said.
“And we also know that people are going to get a really clear message – if you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated. You’ve got to get vaccinated. It’s time,” he added.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan, The Bronx) joined De Blasio Tuesday urging New Yorkers to get the vaccine. The previous day, he held a news conference with Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) calling on the city to implement a vaccine mandate for indoor dining and gyms.
“I think it’s very simple. I carry it in my wallet and I just pull out my card,” Espaillat said on Tuesday. “Restaurants and other places have been testing folks for their temperatures, they’ve been asking young people for their age before they can serve alcohol — so this is nothing new. But this will save lives.”
Calling the Shots
Espaillat represents some of the least vaccinated parts of the city, including a hunk of The Bronx, which lags the other boroughs in getting shots.
Just 51% of Bronx residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Monday, city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stats show, compared to 55% of Staten Islanders, the borough with the lowest vaccination rate until recently, and 72% of Manhattan residents, the borough with the highest rate.
Brooklyn has hit 53% and Queens 66%. Overall, 60% of city residents — about 5 million — have received at least one shot.
Bronx community leaders are stepping up to get shots in arms — and finding that de Blasio’s $100 reward for a first shot may be backfiring.
At the Murphy Houses Family Day on Saturday, visitors munched on skewers and hamburgers, ate cotton candy, and had their face painted at the NYCHA development — and could get their COVID vaccine shot too.
The effort came from a partnership between the tenants association and VIP Community Services, a community health provider that provided a vaccine bus staffed with nurses and practitioners for the event. The organization has vaccinated 5,887 people, primarily in the central and southern Bronx.
Tenants association president Christopher Moultrie said the group reached out to VIP Community Services in early July, because he and the rest of leadership thought “it was important to folks to protect themselves” against the virus.
“We did it because we wanted people to go out and get it because it’s important that, you know, you’re saving lives, and saving families, and saving yourself and your friends by getting this vaccine,” he said.
But the effort did not yield the desired results. Though the vaccine bus was parked all afternoon just outside Murphy, on the Crotona Avenue side, only two people were vaccinated at the public event that day.
Concerns about the vaccine were among the reasons visitors cited for turning down the chance — but so was the $100 credit awarded at city-run vaccination sites.
VIP Community Services and other non-city vaccine providers aren’t participating in the $100 program, said VIP’s Carmen Rivera.
Still, Rivera said she hopes the new mandates will encourage others to get the vaccine — even if it’s not through VIP. “It helps. It sends the message that you have to be responsible — especially because it’s so readily available,” she said.
For months, providers like VIP Community Services and health advocates have battled misinformation about the vaccine while fielding concerns from parents with school-aged children or people who are trying to conceive.
Some Bronx residents, like many New Yorkers, are waiting until the vaccine has non-emergency U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval before getting their shots, said Ivelyse Andino, founder and CEO of the Bronx-based community health organization Radical Health.
Others are simply skeptical of any government efforts to influence intimate decisions about their personal health, she said.
As a result, her group has focused on training community leaders towards “harm reduction” conversations: in essence, teaching them how to navigate and debunk disinformation in their communities.
“It’s about meeting people where they are,” Andino said. “So the question that we like to ask is: What is your plan? And what are you going to do to stay safe, without vaccines? If you have questions about the vaccine, where do you go that’s a trusted source?,” she said. “It’s about giving people accurate information and also not pressuring you to get the vaccine if you’re not ready.”
Getting Folks off the Fence
The majority of new COVID cases in the city occur in ZIP codes with low vaccination rates, THE CITY previously reported. Many unvaccinated New Yorkers are between ages 18 and 44, and a majority of them are Black and Latino, according to city data.
The new vaccine mandates, health advocates said, could either help or hurt efforts to get more shots in arms.
Andino and Inez Sieben, the chief strategy officer at VIP Community Services, said the results might be mixed. Either the mandates will spur people to get their vaccine in order to “fully participate in city life,” as de Blasio hopes — or it will make others double down on their decision to refuse, particularly in the face of new urgings that even the vaccinated mask indoors.
“Gaining people’s trust is a slow process, and it’s not unique to what we’re seeing in The Bronx,” Sieben said.
“I think it’s going to be messy,” she said of the new mandate. “But depending on how it’s implemented, that may also spur more people to say, ‘Okay, I’ll get vaccinated.’”