Mayor Bill de Blasio called on private employers Friday to impose vaccination requirements as workers begin to head back to the office, as part of his latest bid to head off a surge in COVID cases driven by the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
De Blasio’s remarks on WNYC came just two days after he imposed a mandate on employees of the city’s public hospital system and the Health Department’s community clinics to finally get vaccinated or face weekly coronavirus testing.
“We tried purely voluntary for over half a year. We tried every form of incentives,” he said during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “But now we’ve got to go further, we’ve reached the limits of a purely voluntary system.”
“It’s time for more mandates,” he added.
De Blasio’s remarks are the latest in a dramatic about-face for the mayor, who insisted for weeks the city could convince vaccine-hesitant New Yorkers to get their shots through public awareness campaigns and incentives, like raffles for transit MetroCards and weekend “stay-cation” holidays in local hotels.
That was before coronavirus case numbers and testing positivity rates began to tick up across the five boroughs, a surge driven by the Delta variant, which accounted for 57 percent of coronavirus cases here over the last four weeks, new Health Department statistics show.
And it was before the Delta variant drove devastating new outbreaks of the coronavirus in rural communities across the southern United States, in places like Missouri and Alabama, where vaccination campaigns have been hamstrung.
Officials here say New York City’s comparatively high rate of vaccination — 70 percent of adult residents have at least one shot — has helped to prevent mass outbreaks like those, but warn the Delta variant poses a tremendous threat to New Yorkers who won’t get their jabs.
“The Delta variant is like a freight train coming on, we’ve got to take it real seriously,” he said.
“We’ve tried everything else and we got results, but we need more” people to get vaccinated, de Blasio later reiterated. “I urge every employer to go with whatever form of mandate you are comfortable with because it will help us fight COVID.”
He continued: “If people want freedom, if people want jobs, if people want to be able to live again, we have got to get more people vaccinated.”
The mandate push is gaining traction around the globe as other authorities seek to tamp down variant-fueled outbreaks.
The French government announced that its citizens would be required to show proof of vaccination for everything from going to movies and eating indoors to boarding a plane or train.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s “big stick” strategy — soon to be codified by the national legislature — prompted protests from the far left and far right, but also reignited the country’s once-stalled vaccination drive.
More than 3.7 million people there have signed up for shots since Macron’s directive was laid out.
“I think that’s a direction that we need to seriously consider,” de Blasio said, when asked about the French restrictions. “We’re watching the situation daily.”
In that vein, de Blasio hinted to Lehrer that he was considering requiring proof of vaccination to attend the several large concerts City Hall is organizing this summer to celebrate the city’s reopening.
Mandates are also gaining traction in cities stateside. San Francisco recently announced it would require all of its municipal employees to get vaccinated despite opposition from municipal labor unions there.
De Blasio has strongly hinted he’s considering eventually expanding the city’s limited mandate further, but has repeatedly declined to provide more details about which agencies it might apply to next and when it would be imposed.
He took that tack again when he was pressed by Lehrer over details of any coming expansion of the shots-or-test mandate, even as he called for private employers to implement vaccine requirements, too.
“I’ve been very explicit about the fact that this is a beginning and we’re going to climb up the ladder of measures to address this situation,” de Blasio told the radio host. “We’re going to be making announcements piece by piece.”