New York City expanded its toolkit of COVID-19 mandates on Monday, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old and for workers at all private-sector companies.
The mandate comes as the highly transmissible Omicron variant pushes into more US states.
The most populous US city set a December 27 deadline for all 184,000 businesses within its limits to make their employees show proof that they have been vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
In addition, children 5 to 11 years old must get at least one dose by December 14. Those 12 and older need to be fully vaccinated by December 27 to enter restaurants and participate in extracurricular school activities, such as sports, band, and dances.
“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” de Blasio, who leaves office next month, said in a statement.
De Blasio’s successor, Eric Adams, will evaluate the mandate and other strategies to combat the pandemic when he takes office in January, his spokesperson Evan Thies said.
The mandate means that many young people, or their parents, will need to scramble to get a shot to keep eating out or participating in after-school activities. Only about 27 per cent of New Yorkers ages 5 to 12 have taken at least one dose, and just 15 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the city’s website.
For adult New Yorkers, vaccination rates are much higher. About 89 per cent have received at least one vaccine dose, topping the national rate of 83.5 per cent reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many companies, including several Wall Street banks headquartered in New York, such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, already require vaccines for anyone coming into their offices.
A nationwide vaccine mandate issued earlier this year by President Joe Biden for companies with 100 workers or more was put on hold last month by a US appeals court in New Orleans.
An administration request to a US appeals court in Cincinnati to reinstate the mandate is pending.
The new requirements, which The Greater New York Chamber of Commerce supports, come as new coronavirus infections are accelerating nationwide, especially in northern states, where colder weather prompts social events to move indoors.
Over the last week, the country has averaged more than 120,000 new infections a day, up 64 per cent from the prior week, according to a Reuters tally. According to Reuters data, deaths, which lag infections, have averaged 1,300 a day over the last seven days, up from a rate of 800 a week ago.
Omicron, first detected last month in southern Africa, has spread around the globe and shows signs of being more contagious than the Delta variant, which is still dominant in the United States.
Several dozen Omicron cases have been found in 18 out of 50 US states - California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally.
Louisiana has also reported a probable Omicron case in a crew member on a cruise ship that disembarked in New Orleans over the weekend. At least 17 COVID-19 cases were detected on the ship, state health officials said.
De Blasio, a Democrat and strong proponent of mandates who has issued them for several sets of municipal workers, expressed confidence that his latest order would withstand legal scrutiny, as his previous orders did.
Anne Dana, an attorney at the King & Spalding law firm, said the mayor’s private-sector mandate stands a better chance of going into effect than the Biden mandate because a similar city rule for restaurants, gyms and other private employers has already survived legal challenges.
Some 94 per cent of 378,000 city employees are vaccinated, up from 86 per cent in late October, just before the city began enforcing its mandate for emergency responders, a spokesperson for the mayor said.
Another 1,339 workers are on unpaid leave, and 12,200 have medical or religious exemption requests pending, he said.