New York City to Drop Indoor Dining Vaccination Requirement if Trend Continues

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams will drop the city’s vaccination requirement for indoor dining, entertainment and gyms as early as March 7 if the city’s coronavirus case numbers continue to decline — ending a Bill de Blasio-era policy that defined city life during the pandemic.

Adams has said for weeks that he wants to end pandemic-related restrictions in the Big Apple, and promised he would make a final decision on Friday, Feb. 25 about the indoor vaccination requirement as well as public school mask mandates.

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“I want to thank the millions of New Yorkers who masked up and helped us reach unprecedented levels of vaccinations,” Adams said in a statement on Sunday, Feb. 27. “We’re taking this week to give business owners the time to adapt while we monitor the numbers to ensure we are making the best public health decisions for the people of New York.”

Adams’ announcement came after Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state would end its mask mandate for students in schools this Wednesday, but counties and cities around New York would make the final determination. Adams also said the city would drop its requirement for public school students to wear masks indoors along with the vaccine requirement.

The vaccination mandate, dubbed the “Key to NYC” program, was instituted by the de Blasio administration and required restaurant-goers, concert attendees and gym visitors to show proof that they, and a business’ staff members, had been fully vaccinated.

Even if the “Key to NYC” program ends, the requirement for employees of those establishments would remain in place thanks to another last-minute rule from the outgoing de Blasio administration that forced all in-person and public-facing workers in the city to be fully vaccinated. 

While the vaccination requirements followed one of the most economically fraught periods for the city’s small businesses — especially its COVID-decimated restaurants — many local businesses embraced the rule with some even adopting their own vaccination requirements prior to the city’s.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the restaurant trade group the New York City Hospitality Alliance, doesn’t expect mandates to completely disappear.

“We need to continue to be smart and safe, and also modify mandates as COVID risks are reduced,” Rigie said in a statement to Commercial Observer. “So removing proof of vaccination for indoor dining and drinking will be very welcome news to many restaurants and bars, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some businesses want to voluntarily keep it in place.”

Coronavirus cases have decreased nationally and in New York, which recorded a less than 2 percent seven-day average positivity rate for the first time since a wave of cases, spurred on by the omicron variant, caused COVID-19 rates to skyrocket. The number of city residents that have gotten vaccinated has also steadily increased, with 86 percent of New York City residents having at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccines and 77 percent having received a full vaccine dose schedule, according to city data

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.