Virus Outbreak New York

Customers dine outside Shade Bar NYC on June 22, 2020, in New York.

(The Center Square) – Monday was a key day in New York City as officials began enforcing vaccination requirements for employees and customers at indoor dining, entertainment and recreational facilities.

The “Key to NYC” mandate actually started on Aug. 17. However, city officials held off on immediately enforcing it as they opted to conduct an outreach campaign to explain the program. New York City spent $10 million on a multiplatform ad campaign to increase awareness and sent about 600 people to go to the affected businesses in a door-to-door campaign.

Venues covered under the order include movie theaters, concert halls, sports arenas, performing arts centers, bowling alleys, gyms, casinos, restaurants, bars and other venues with indoor dining. Under the plan announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio last month, workers and patrons at those and other establishments covered by the order must have received at least one shot of an allowed COVID-19 vaccine to enter the facility.

Inspectors from various city agencies will be in charge of enforcing the vaccination mandate. Businesses found in violation face a $1,000 fine. Repeat violators could face steeper penalties, up to $5,000.

However, in speaking to reporters on Monday, de Blasio said issuing citations isn’t the primary goal behind the order.

Inspectors from 13 agencies will check businesses for their practices and make sure proper signage is being displayed.

“Our goal (is) if there’s anything that’s a little off to help that business get it right,” de Blasio said. “We don’t want to fine people we don’t have to. We want to just get it right and keep moving forward.”

The mayor added that he’s heard that vaccination checks have been put in place at the vast majority of locations impacted by the order.

However, the executive director for the New York City Hospitality Alliance told The Center Square in a statement that the effect the order has had in its members has been “all over the map.” The alliance represents nearly 25,000 dining and nightlife establishments in the city.

“For some restaurants, it hasn’t been an issue, and some customers feel more comfortable knowing everyone is vaccinated, while it’s been tough for others who are losing customers and even reporting conflicts turning some people away at the door,” Andrew Rigie said. “Even though enforcement starts today, we still urge the city to focus on education and training first, and issuing violations and penalties as a last resort.”

Those who have not been vaccinated and still wish to eat out may still do so at establishments offering outdoor dining. The order, according to a memo from the counsel to the mayor, does allow the unvaccinated to enter buildings for “very quick and limited purposes,” such as going to a restroom, paying a bill or picking up a takeout order.

Those people, however, must wear masks if they cannot maintain six feet of social distancing from workers and other patrons.

The vaccine mandate also does not cover such businesses as child care centers or private events at a person’s home.

“Key to NYC” is not the only vaccine mandate city officials have sought to implement. An order issued on Aug. 23 required 148,000 workers in the city’s public schools system to show proof of at least their first vaccination by Sept. 27.

On Friday, United Federation of Teachers, the union representing the city’s teachers, got a victory when an arbitrator ruled teachers with certain medical conditions must be offered out-of-classroom assignments and that those who decline to accept unpaid leave must be offered severance that includes health insurance through the end of the school year and compensation for their unused sick days.

While the union has said it backs vaccination efforts, it brought the case because of its duty to represent all members.

“The arbitration finding does not resolve the underlying issue of whether the city has the legal authority to issue such a mandate for teachers and other city workers,” the union tweeted late Friday evening. “The question of the city’s legal authority can only be resolved by the courts.”