At the Riverdale Diner in The Bronx, manager Joe Saka began asking for proof of vaccinations Monday morning, and wound up turning away a few customers by midday.
Saka, like many others New Yorkers, thought the new city mandate that requires nearly everyone to have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to enter certain businesses began on Aug. 16, But the requirement officially starts Tuesday.
The customers he kept from his Kingsbridge Avenue eatery “weren’t angry, they understood,” he said. But the mandate, Saka believes, will hurt business if he keeps having to bar his doors to the unvaccinated.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t believe in it,” he said of the COVID-19 vaccines. “They’re not with it.”
Business owners and employees across New York City have been preparing for this week’s new vaccine mandate, which Mayor Bill de Blasio officially kicked off Monday by signing an executive order.
But enforcement — backed by conflict-resolution training for business owners and staff — won’t begin until Sept. 13.
After the nearly month-long grace period, any business that doesn’t check vaccine status will face a $1,000 fine for the first infraction, with penalties increasing for repeated violations, according to a City Hall spokesperson, who noted that employees of the establishments also must be vaccinated.
People using phony vax cards could get into big trouble, warned Dr. David Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner. “A fake vaccination card constitutes fraud and will be prosecuted as fraud by that individual,” he said.
Motivating the Masses
As of Monday, nearly 63% of New Yorkers had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with 56.4% fully vaccinated, according to the city’s health department. But more than one-third of people in that age group have yet to get their shots.
“I am absolutely certain this is going to motivate a lot of people to get vaccinated,” de Blasio said of the mandate during a news conference Monday morning. “It’s going to be a reason for people to get vaccinated, particularly young people.”
The city’s push to get more people vaccinated comes as it balances a continued reopening from the pandemic and a surge of new cases driven by the Delta variant of COVID-19.
Events like the New York Auto Show at the Javits Center are being canceled again due to rising health concerns. And parents and educators have also expressed concern over the reopening of schools next month amid the uptick in cases.
“We know one of the biggest areas of concern is reaching younger New Yorkers, our 20-somethings, 30-somethings who need to be convinced that it’s so powerful to be vaccinated,” de Blasio added. The mandate “is going to be one of the ways we do it.”
But for those working on the frontlines of vaccine-rule enforcement — the general manager of a gym, a maitre d’ or a bar bouncer, for example — there’s concern for their own safety and the reaction from people who don’t want to comply.
‘On the Frontlines’
In addition to a $10 million media campaign on the new rule and canvassing to every business across the five boroughs, the city is also offering conflict-resolution training starting this week.
The training will be overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearing, the city agency that uses mediation and conflict resolution to address various municipal disputes, as well as disciplinary hearings for civil servants.
Officials did not say how many people they expected to sign up.
The city’s social-distancing ambassadors — who hand out masks in public — and some other employees have already gone through this type of training, according to a spokesperson for OATH.
The lessons teach employees how to “positively engage with people using positive nonverbal language” as well as “cross-cultural communication and cultural sensitivity,” according to the spokesperson.
But the pandemic has added “enforcer” to many job descriptions.
Restaurant and bar workers have “been on the frontlines of public health and culture wars in some ways,” said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
From mask compliance to taking customers’ temperatures and contact tracking information, to serving food at bars that didn’t have any, the industry has had to adjust to new roles and regulations.
“If this is able to keep our workers safe and customers safe, we’ll avoid having to revert to harsher restrictions, then that will be important,” said Rigie, though he noted that restaurants and bars in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates could face bigger challenges.
Chris Panayiotou, who owns the Gee Whiz Diner in Tribeca, said Monday afternoon that he hadn’t encountered any issues with unvaccinated customers. But he called the mandate another burden for a struggling industry.
“I feel like it’s more work to hurt us than it is to help the small businesses,” he said.