Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order on Monday that rubber stamped New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for a host of in-person activities.
Two weeks ago when the city first announced the initiative, known as Key to NYC, it only applied to dining indoors at restaurants, working out at the gym and attending indoor entertainment venues. The mayor has now expanded the policy to nightclubs, pools, all city museums and other cultural institutions.
“We want people to enjoy the fullness of the city, but you gotta be vaccinated to do it,” Mayor de Blasio said at his Monday presser. “It’s going to be a reason for people to get vaccinated, particularly young people, and we know how important that is.”
Businesses have until September 13th to come into compliance, at which point city agencies will start conducting inspections and issuing penalties for violations. Many restaurants have already begun checking customers’ vaccination status at the door.
Overall, some 56% of New York City residents are fully vaccinated, but there is still wide variation between demographic groups. The figure for those aged 18 to 24 hovers at 55%, compared with 79% of those in the 65 to 74 cohort. But the rates drop again among older senior citizens, to as low as 56% among people over 85.
A group of elected officials representing Staten Island have said they plan to sue the city over the vaccine requirement, calling it a violation of people’s rights. But the mayor and city health officials argue that the initiative will help people feel safer working at and patronizing restaurants and other businesses while allowing the city to fight the highly contagious delta variant.
The U.S. Justice Department opined in late July that federal law doesn’t prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates, even though the drugs are not fully approved yet. And despite news reports of vaccinated people contracting the virus since the delta variant emerged, national data shows these breakthrough cases are still rare, and these fully vaccinated people are infectious for a much shorter amount of time. The shots also still significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.
City officials have compiled information on the Key to NYC initiative for customers and business owners online, and the mayor’s office says there will be outreach campaigns in the coming weeks. If you still aren’t sure where you’ll have to present proof of vaccination, what types of documentation will be accepted, or if you’ll have to pull out your vaccination card every time you want to duck into a Starbucks to use the bathroom, read on.
Where will I need to show proof of vaccination?
You’ll have to show proof of vaccination for indoor dining, not just at restaurants, but also in coffee shops, bars, cafes, fast food joints, catering halls and hotel banquet rooms.
A wide range of indoor entertainment establishments will also have to check patrons’ vaccine status, including night clubs, concert venues, pool halls, movie theaters, stadiums, museums and galleries.
If you want to work out at the gym, take an indoor fitness class or go to a dance studio, be prepared to show proof of vaccination as well.
All of these rules apply to staff at these establishments. And unvaccinated people can still get a table at a bar or restaurant—as long as it is outdoors.
Which venues are exempt from this executive order?
The list of exemptions includes residential and office buildings, churches, community centers, and schools for pre-K through 12th grade.
I just got my first vaccine dose. Can I get a table inside?
Yes. The new rule requires proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
What forms of documentation will be accepted? Do I have to show ID?
In order to enter venues covered by the rule, you will have to show ID along with proof of vaccination. Accepted forms of proof include a CDC card or an official immunization record from outside the United States (see below).
If you’re worried about carrying those documents around, you can also pull out a physical or digital photo.
The state’s Excelsior Pass app also qualifies but can only be used by people who’ve received their shots in New York. Some New Yorkers have faced issues getting the state app to recognize their vaccine information, however, and had to come up with work-arounds. The app now clarifies that when it asks what county you were vaccinated in, you may need to enter the county where the company administering the vaccine is headquartered instead.
What if I was vaccinated outside of the U.S.?
If you were vaccinated abroad, you need to show a document that has your full name, date of birth, and when and by whom the vaccine was administered. The document must also include the name of the vaccine you received.
That can be one of the vaccines with emergency use authorization in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna or Johson & Johnson), or any vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization. According to the city, that includes AstraZeneca/SK Bioscience, Serum Institute of India/COVISHIELD and Vaxzevria, Sinopharm, or Sinovac.
What if I just need to use the bathroom? Do I still have to show proof of vaccination?
No. The mayor’s executive order clarifies that if you are going into an establishment for a “quick and limited purpose,” such as picking up a food order, using the bathroom, performing repairs or changing clothes in a locker room, then you don’t have to show proof of vaccination. You must wear a mask—an understated detail buried in the mayor's executive order but not mentioned on the city health department's description of Key to NYC.
Are any other individuals exempt?
Nonresident performers and professional athletes will be allowed to enter venues where they are competing or performing without proof of vaccination, as will those who accompany them as part of their job. They will have to mask up whenever they can’t physically distance six feet.
What about children under 12 who aren't yet eligible for vaccination?
Mayor de Blasio said on August 4th that children under 12 are allowed to enter the establishments as long as they wear a face mask while unable to socially distance six feet away from other people. They are not required to wear a mask when eating or drinking.
What are the penalties for violating the executive order?
Once the city starts enforcing the rule on September 13th, businesses that don’t comply are subject to a fine of $1,000 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second, and $5,000 for subsequent rule-breaking.
What if I use a fake record?
Because U.S. vaccine cards carry the CDC’s seal, it is a federal crime to knowingly make, use, obtain, buy or sell a fraudulent version. That's according to a public service announcement issued by the FBI in late March. Infractions are punishable by federal fines and up to 5 years in prison.
Under current state law, forgery of a written document constitutes either a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or a class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison. The state legislature passed a bill in June that would make it explicit that vaccine records, both paper and digital, are covered by state forgery law. But that bill has yet to be signed by the governor.