Mayor Eric Adams could lift vaccine controls at restaurants, some owners could keep them anyway


Mayor Eric Adams is expected to announce on Friday that restaurants and other indoor venues no longer have to check customers’ COVID vaccination status, prompting jubilation from much of the restaurant industry.

Still, some landlords decide to keep a vaccination mandate in place, or are considering it, while remaining uncertain of how their customers will react, whichever route they choose.

Before Adams said last weekend that he planned to lift the Key2NYC vaccine passport mandate, Jeremy Wladis was leaning towards continuing to check the status of customers at his Upper West Side restaurants, which include Good Enough to Eat and Harvest Kitchen.

“I was at the point where I said, you know, I’ll probably keep it alive for a while and see how people feel because my personal opinion and my professional opinion is that our civic duty was to get out and get vaccinated. And I still believe that is the case,” said Wladis, president of The Restaurant Group.

But the steady decline in new infections coupled with the drop in deaths from the virus, is forcing Wladis to rethink his decision. On the Upper West Side, more than 85% of adults are fully vaccinated, and Wladis said customers tout their vaccination cards “like a badge of honor.”

“From our point of view, we are happy to do so,” he added. “I’m going to talk to my team and ask anyone if they think there’s negativity one way or the other and ask them what they think.”

Greenwich Village seafood restaurant Dame told Grub Street it plans to keep a vaccine evidence warrant in place. A representative said: “We don’t see the need to stop.”

Alfresco dining is expected to continue to be an option, with city council due to vote this month on a bill establishing a permanent scheme.

highly vaccinated

In the five boroughs, 96.5% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to nearly 88% nationally, and nearly 87% are fully vaccinated, more than the 75% of adults in the United States. United.

Dr. Jay Varma, the health adviser who helped guide former Mayor Bill de Blasio through the pandemic, and other public health experts credit the vaccine mandate with helping many New- Yorkers to get vaccinated. In a Daily News op-ed published Thursday, Varma urged Adams not to drop the Key2NYC requirements for restaurants and other venues.

Yet precisely because vaccination rates are already so high, continuing the mandate is unlikely to convince resistants to get vaccinated, said Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, research associate at the NYU School of Global Public Health. and researcher in preparation. at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

“It is unlikely that at this time the mandate to participate in social activities in the city will change his mind if he has not done so in the last year,” said Piltch-Loeb. . “It would take a much more focused identification of the remaining reasons and whether there might be any conversations or explanations that might alter their perceptions.”

Still, some COVID-wary New Yorkers remain apprehensive about returning to indoor dining and can be reassured by restaurants choosing to continue checking vaccine status in the future — much like theaters in Broadway and some other venues choose to do so.

Maintaining the vaccination mandate for customers may prove easier said than done, according to Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a restaurant industry trade association.

Bars and restaurants could open themselves up to litigation, including over vaccinations, he said. The highly political climate around vaccination mandates only heightens concerns about backlash.

Some sort of official city hall support will likely be needed to ensure restaurants and bars have a clearly defined ability to ask customers to show proof of vaccination, Rigie said.

“I suspect there will be restaurants that will voluntarily keep it in place, Rigie said, and “that the city allows them to do that and makes sure that for those restaurants they have the legal right.

Earlier this week, Adams said he didn’t expect there would be a problem allowing the companies to keep the vaccine mandate, but would consult with city attorneys in any case. .

An Adams spokesperson, Fabien Levy, said that if City Hall issues guidelines suspending the Key2NYC program, “we will also issue guidelines on how businesses can proceed.”

The vaccination requirement for diners has been “an extremely difficult mandate to navigate” for restaurateurs and workers, said Rigie, who supports lifting the mandate after nearly two years of ever-changing rules for restaurants.

But he acknowledged that the mandate has been divisive.

“People are really torn about the evidence for eating,” he said. “Some people are very happy and some people are really angry. It’s just another impossible situation.

“Tired of being the police”

Last August, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City would require proof of vaccination for indoor activities, becoming the first major US city to do so.

Overnight, restaurant workers became bouncers, checking people’s vaccination cards and IDs to make sure they could dine or drink inside, sometimes putting them in difficult situations in the face of combative customers.

“Sometimes people get upset,” said Charlotta Janssen, owner of Chez Oskar, a French bistro in Bed-Stuy. “But we have a lot of outdoor dining and luckily we have space there. We can always say “we can accommodate you with heated outdoor dining”.

“We’re just tired of being the police,” Janssen added. “We’re just really, really exhausted, you know?”

Mahmood Alsubai, manager of the Yemen Cafe in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, saw a second location closed for two months due to staffing shortages and COVID cases among staff. He is eager to get things back on track.

“All of Bay Ridge is in favor of lifting both the mask and the vaccine,” he said.

Mark Caserta, executive director of business recovery at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, told THE CITY that companies he spoke with are reporting “the worst winter on record,” after the Omicron variant and widespread infections despite high vaccination rates have kept clients at home.

“Restaurants were seeing very low numbers of people eating inside. The winter has been very difficult so far,” said Caserta. He called the lifting of the vaccination mandate “good news” that could mean increased business for restaurants.

The mandate, which required anyone 5 and older to show proof of full vaccination, is also a challenge for tourists from countries where the vaccine was not yet available for children, prompting some to rethink their trips and putting the brakes on a key driver of the city’s economy. .

From a public health perspective, maintaining a vaccination requirement would be ideal because other parts of the country and the world are still seeing higher case numbers, Piltch-Loeb argued. But she recognizes that other forces are now at work.

“Bringing tourism back to the city, which the city thrives on and needs, is balanced with our mask mandates and vaccination requirements that kind of limit that economic rebound for the city,” she said. .

For restaurant workers in Bay Ridge, it’s about small business survival.

“The mandate only works effectively on large businesses and it hurts small businesses. People cannot enter because of the restrictions,” Alsubai said. “Big tech still gets its paycheck online, but I make my money when people walk in.”

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