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Professional athletes and entertainers working and based in New York will no longer be required to show proof of coronavirus vaccinations, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday, linking the decision to the city’s high unemployment rate and the need to keep employees at work.
“We’re going to make sure we’re healthy,” he said at a press conference at Citi Field, home of the Mets, where he was joined by Mets and Yankees executives. “And being healthy isn’t just physically healthy, it’s economically healthy.”
The policy change means Kyrie Irving, the Nets’ star point guard who refused to be vaccinated, will be able to speak at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the first time this season. This also applies to artists based in New York.
Mr. Adams, a Democrat who has been particularly focused on the city’s post-pandemic recovery, had openly argued with Mr. Irving’s supporters over the city’s broad vaccination mandate for employees of private companies .
The new policy, which Adams said applied to a small number of people, takes effect Thursday, according to a press release from the mayor’s office, and extends the blanket exemption to the private employer tenure that has was made for out-of-town artists and visiting team athletes. Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of the city’s public hospital system, who attended the press conference, said limiting the exemption to out-of-town workers didn’t make sense to him. and did not “follow any science”.
“We treated our artists differently because they lived and played for local teams. This is not acceptable,” Mr Adams said, adding that the mandate had put teams at a “competitive disadvantage”.
Still, the mayor urged everyone to get vaccinated, regardless.
“I said it and I will continue to say it: we should all be vaccinated, even the players,” he said.
Mr. Adams will keep vaccination mandates in place for municipal workers and other employees of private companies. These policies were implemented by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, and were among the strictest local health measures in the United States.
The mayor, who took office in January, ended other restrictions as cases plummeted over the past month. He recently ended a mask mandate for schools and a vaccination proof policy for restaurants and gyms.
Asked about other potential changes at the press conference, Mr Adams said: ‘There is going to be a time when we are going to continue to look at what we can pull off to bring a level of normalcy back to our city.
He added: “That’s my goal. I’m going to do it slowly and methodically with the health team.
In a statement, Adrienne Adams, the city council president, said she was “worried about the increasingly ambiguous messages” New Yorkers were being sent on public health. She pointed out the contrast with city workers dropped the mandate to vaccinate city workers — a tiny fraction of the city’s workforce — and the need to closely monitor indicators of rising cases.
“I encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated, boosted, and continue to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, their families, and their communities while enjoying our city,” she added.
In recent weeks, several notable basketball figures had criticized the mandate as it applied to Mr Irving, who says his refusal is a matter of personal freedom.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last month in an interview with ESPN that the mandate “doesn’t quite make sense” because unvaccinated opposing players are allowed to play at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden. Asked about Mr Silver’s comments that day, Mr Adams agreed the rule was ‘unfair’ but wondered if there would be an exception.
As the US trend to lift Covid precautions gained momentum, the pressure on Mr Adams grew. When a heckler at a public event yelled at Mr. Adams about Mr. Irving, the mayor suggested a simple solution: “Kyrie can play tomorrow. To get vaccinated.”
On Thursday, Mr. Adams reiterated that point.
“Kyrie, you should get vaccinated,” the mayor said. “Nothing has changed. Get vaccinated.”
Mr. Irving is one of the best players in the NBA, but his team’s struggles during his absences have left the Nets in danger of missing the playoffs.
Dr. Jay Varma, epidemiologist and health adviser to Mr. de Blasio, wrote on Twitter Wednesday night that vaccines work “unless you’re rich and powerful, in which case lobbying works.”
Dr Varma called the new policy “Kyrie Carve Out” and said he feared the legal status of the city’s vaccination mandates could now be challenged in court as “arbitrary and capricious”.
Mr Adams refuted that criticism on Thursday: ‘I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t talking to the lawyers, and they said it’s by law.’