When in doubt, wear a mask, even if you are vaccinated. But under no conditions, let the need to wear a mask distract you from getting vaccinated in the first place.
That was Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “strong recommendation” Monday. Neither a mandate nor an edict, the Mayor’s guidance on wearing mask’s indoors was nonetheless clear:
“If you don’t know the people you’re around, you’re not sure if they’re vaccinated or not, or you know they’re unvaccinated, it’s absolutely crucial to wear a mask even if you are vaccinated.”
The Mayor went less far than other communities Monday in mandating masks. But on Tuesday he went further than any in the United States in mandating vaccination for both employees and patrons indoors at restaurants, fitness clubs and theaters.
“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “It’s time.”
Many employers have been pleading for such a mandate and the Broadway theaters and several restaurant groups have already adopted a vaccination rule on their own.
“Mandating vaccine requirements for restaurant and bar employees and customers to work and dine indoors is a very difficult step,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, representing bars and restaurants, “but ultimately may prove an essential move to protecting public health and ensuring that New York City does not revert to restrictions and shut down orders that would again absolutely devastate small businesses that have not yet recovered from the pandemic.”
The mayor stressed that his strategy both on masks and vaccination requirement is to drive more New Yorkers to get jabbed:
“This is going to be a lifesaving act, that we are putting a mandate in place that is going to guarantee a much higher level of vaccination in this city. And that is the key to protecting people, and the key to our recovery.”
Rising Case Numbers
De Blasio’s briefing Monday came after a week in which he seemed to struggle with whether New Yorkers could hold two public health thoughts at the same time: get vaccinated AND adopt safe practices like mask wearing and distancing.
The city’s vaccine effort has given at least a first dose to 5 million New Yorkers. But of course that leaves 3.3 million unvaccinated.
For months, cases were declining as vaccination spread. But then vaccination rates plummeted, the Delta variant arrived and cases began to rise again.
The city health commissioner, Dr. Dave Choksi, explained on Monday that masks and social distancing help disrupt spread of the virus, a crucial challenge as the Delta variant proves so much more transmissible that even fully vaccinated people are at times contracting and spreading it.
That is why it is smart to bring back masks indoors, said Choksi, who noted that he was wearing one in part to protect his daughter, who is not yet old enough to be vaccinated.
Several other city leaders, including Council Member Mark Levine, said the mayor had not gone far enough on masking, and urged him to adopt a mandatory rule like San Francisco or Louisiana.
Getting vaccination rates back up is job one, the mayor stressed. He said 8,000 New Yorkers have collected the $100 incentive the city has been offering since Friday for getting jabbed.
The mayor loves to talk about all the incentives for getting vaccinated. Monday he sounded like a concert promoter as he interviewed rapper Corey Woods, aka Raekwon, on the glories of one of the upcoming events the city has organized to celebrate New York’s comeback.
“The concert is a blessing for us,” said Raekwon, a member of the Wu-tang Clan.
Attendees must be vaccinated, the city has announced.
The mayor has been sprinkling mandates in among all the incentives and pleas. He announced Monday that all newly hired municipal employees must be vaccinated before they start. “Pure vaccine mandate for new employees,” he said.
Left unexplained was why the difference between that edict and the rule set last week that his present 400,000 employees must either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing.
Both de Blasio and his nemesis, Governor Andrew Cuomo, have been incrementally adding steps designed to press New Yorkers, and each other, to do what needs to be done so New York can actually be done once and for all with COVID-19.
Both held news conferences Monday morning, although in keeping with past practice they did not speak to each other beforehand, the mayor said.
Cuomo announced that vaccines would be mandatory for frontline staff in state run hospitals. The MTA and Port Authority also were adopting requirements for vaccination or testing for their workers, Cuomo said.
“We have a situation,” Cuomo said, “This Covid Delta variant has brought much confusion.”
“The sudden reversal by the CDC” reinstating the recommendation that even the vaccinated wear masks in indoor public spaces was “so abrupt as to cause cynicism and confusion, to be frank,” the governor said.
His criticism seemed more about their communication than their decision. “Vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant,” he acknowledged.
“How bad can it get? Nobody knows.”
He urged New York City and other localities to follow the new CDC mask guidance. But he also said mandatory vaccination would be increasingly necessary of case numbers continue to rise.
He urged private businesses to adopt vaccine-only admissions rules. “I believe it is in your best business interest,” Cuomo said. A number of companies, including several restaurant groups, have adopted such rules. But other companies are urging the governor to impose a vaccine mandate.
The governor also raised the possibility of vaccine mandates for teachers and front line health workers in both public and private health facilities.
This story was updated on August 3, 2021.