Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Queens residents to change their lives, key elected members of the borough’s delegation on the City Council are calling for clear communication and a focused effort to address health and vaccination disparities going forward.
Mayor Eric Adams announced on March 4 that the city would halt its vaccine requirement for indoor businesses and drop the mask mandate for K-12 public school students beginning March 7.
“As New York City’s COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations continue to decline, we have reason to be optimistic about our city’s future because of the work New Yorkers did to protect each other and public health,” Speaker Adrienne Adams said. “More than three-quarters of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, which has proven to save lives and prevent the most severe impacts of the virus. Yet, serious disparities still exist. In order to address continued health inequities, the city should enact a major effort to address the stark disparities in vaccination rates across school districts and communities. Many communities of color have lower vaccination rates, especially amongst students in the neighborhood schools.”
The speaker noted that during the recent omicron surge, Black New Yorkers were twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 as white New Yorkers, in part believed to be due to the lower vaccination rates and a legacy of health inequities.
“In areas that continue to be disproportionately impacted and under-vaccinated, we must invest in public health and wellness,” Adams said. “As has been the case throughout the pandemic, it will be critical for the city to remain flexible and willing to allow the status of COVID’s impact on our city to dictate our policies. We must not be afraid to enact more stringent policies if the public health environment requires it, just as we cannot fear loosening policies as conditions improve.”
During his Times Square briefing on March 4, the mayor announced that starting today restaurants, fitness facilities and entertainment centers are no longer required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination at the door, however, he said they still have the discretion to ask customers about their vaccine status before allowing them to enter. The mayor added that public school students would no longer be required to wear a mask but children under 5 will still have to mask up.
“New York is experiencing the lowest COVID numbers since the start of the pandemic and it seems a good time to begin reducing restrictions, especially for restaurants and other entertainment venues which have suffered greatly,” Health Committee Chair Lynn Shulman said. “With that, it is important to always follow the science, and explore creating guidelines for future healthcare measures based on case levels and other appropriate criteria.”
All other COVID-19 mandates will remain in effect, the mayor said. Under the rules, employees will still be required to be vaccinated unless they have received a reasonable accommodation from their employer.
“COVID-19 has been ever-evolving forcing us to constantly adjust but we are resilient,” said Councilman Francisco Moya, chair of the Subcommittee on COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency. “Two years ago we did not have the tools and lessons learned to protect ourselves and others. As we move forward, we need to continue to monitor the trends and new variants to ensure that we can pilot as needed to protect our most vulnerable communities, our families, our local businesses and the recovery of our city.”