New York City is extending a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to teachers and staff of private and religious schools, a plan that would affect approximately 56,000 employees at 938 schools across New York City. The move sets up a potential clash with some religious leaders who have opposed mandates for their communities.

Currently, all employees of public schools, childcare facilities and early intervention centers must be vaccinated under previous health orders. To date, more than 95% of Department of Education workers have received at least one shot. The new directive requires all nonpublic school staff to provide proof of a first vaccine dose by December 20th.

“We’re doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

His decision arrives on the same day that officials learned that a Minnesotan man who attended a large event last month in New York City tested positive for the newly identified omicron variant, the second confirmed case in the U.S. The city's health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, said people should assume that there is already ongoing community spread of omicron in the five boroughs.

News of the school mandate was immediately opposed by Rabbi David Zwiebel, the chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials. In a letter to the mayor tweeted by a New York Times reporter, Zwiebel said, "This is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce."

Around 77% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but rates in neighborhoods where Orthodox residents live have been lagging. In Borough Park, which has a large Orthodox community, only 51% of residents have received at least one dose. In South Williamsburg, another Orthodox enclave, the one-dose rate is nearly 60%.

De Blasio has repeatedly said that he would consider expanding vaccine mandates, which already apply to all city workers as well as employees at restaurants, gyms and cultural venues—and their patrons ages 12 and up. The mayor's office plans to work with school leaders to provide vaccinations to any schools that request them. Vaccinations will also be offered to students.

New York Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who chairs the health committee and represents parts of Manhattan, voiced support for the mayor's latest decision.

"Vaccine mandates have led to higher vaccination rates. As we head into the winter, it is critical for all, especially those who work in public settings like our schools, to be fully vaccinated," he said. "I support the Mayor's decision to expand vaccine mandates into non-public schools."

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that some education staffers can reapply for previously denied religious exemptions.