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The change – an exemption to NYC’s vaccine mandate for private workers – will now allow professional athletes and entertainers to play at New York City venues.
It comes as the NBA and NHL playoff races heat up, and as Major League Baseball prepares for opening day.
Mayor Adams said it was important to have New York City’s players on “an even playing field.” He noted it will help bring in revenue to the city to have teams that are winning.
“It will help our economy recover in a real way,” the mayor said.
It means Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will be allowed play home games, and unvaccinated baseball players can take the field when their season begins.
“Do not ask me any questions about hypotheticals, about what’s going to happen,” Irving said Wednesday night. “Please do not.”
“This turns the whole thing around, so hoping to get some good news,” said the Nets’ Kevin Durant.
The city’s sweeping vaccine mandate for workers will still apply to people with other types of jobs, including government employees.
“We will look for other ways to ease restrictions when it is safe to do. As I’ve stated, we are going to peel it back and turn around the economy of this city. Tough choice. Cifficult choice. Those who say yay and those who say nay. Thats what I was elected to do. I was elected to make tough choices,” Mayor Adams said.
Adams had said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor, allowed visiting players and performers who don’t work in New York to still play or perform even if they are unvaccinated.
Reaction from the city’s police and other unions was swift and outraged.
PBA President Patrick Lynch released the following statement:
“We have been suing the city for months over its arbitrary and capricious vaccine mandate – this is exactly what we are talking about. If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting our city in the middle of a crime crisis. While celebrities were in lockdown, New York City police officers were on the street throughout the pandemic, working without adequate PPE and in many cases contracting and recovering from Covid themselves. They don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens now.”
And Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and Chair of the Municipal Labor Committee had this statement:
“When New York City shut down, many workers were mandated to come in every day without vaccines to keep the city running. These workers often got sick, and when they got better, came right back to work. There should be a reentry program for workers to get their jobs back. There can’t be one system for the elite and another for the essential workers of our city. We stand ready to work out the details with the Mayor, as we have been throughout this process.”
Irving, a vaccine holdout, had been among the most high-profile people impacted. He was able to re-join the team in January but only when they played out-of-town games.
This month, concerns had been raised that the rule would also impact Major League Baseball.
Yankees star Aaron Judge refused to directly answer a question about his vaccine status earlier this month, leading to speculation that another New York team could be hobbled by a player’s refusal to get inoculated.
The Yankees, who open their season at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 7, thanked Mayor Adams for his “courageous decision.” Yankees President Randy Levine said he was glad the mayor and health officials took the time they needed to get to this decision.
Adams, a Mets fan, made the “economic and health-related announcement” Thursday morning at Citi Field, where the Mets play.
Adams has been rolling back vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions, including on Tuesday when he said masks could become optional for children under 5 starting April 4.
Mask mandates for older children have already been removed, as well as rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym, attend a show, or go to an indoor sporting event.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made vaccination mandatory as a workplace safety rule last year, before leaving office.
All employers are supposed to bar unvaccinated workers from being in shared workplaces.
The city suspended numerous public employees for refusing to get vaccinated, including public servants like firefighters and sanitation workers.
The creation of special exemptions for athletes or entertainers could potentially lead to court challenges arguing the city isn’t applying the law evenly.
On Twitter, an advisor to the former mayor blasted the move as a Kyrie carve out. “Vaccines work,” Dr. Jay Varma posted. “Unless you’re rich and powerful.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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