December 7, 2021
John Berman: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's announcement of a new vaccine mandate for private sector employees caught some businesses by surprise. The mandate requires 184,000 businesses to have all of their workers vaccinated, starting December 27th. That's just days before New York's next mayor, Eric Adams, is set to take office. Joining me now is New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us. We say it caught businesses by surprise, the New York Times as a quote from Kathryn Wylde, the President of the Business Group Partnership for New York City. She says we were blindsided, there was no forewarning, no discussion. Why the surprise?
Mayor Bill de Blasio: I don't think anyone should be surprised about what we're seeing with Omicron variant, with the extraordinary growth of cases that we're experiencing in this city and all over this country. Look at a country like Germany – right now, shutdowns, restrictions. We cannot let that happen. So, we had to take decisive action. And look, this Omicron variant moves fast. We have to move faster. That's why we did this.
Berman: It doesn't take long to call a business association.
Mayor: We've talked to business leaders for months about the reality of the Delta variant and the whole reality of COVID. You know what they tell us? One, when the government acts, it makes it easier for them to act. They like to see the government lead the way. We did that with our own public employees, our own public schools. We proved that it works. And then, what we also heard from business leaders is, whatever you do, don't let us go back to a shutdown, don't let us go backwards. This is a preemptive strike. This is to get ahead of something that's now threatening us in a new way. You had the winter weather, you had the holiday gatherings, now Omicron. I mean, we're getting a lot of warnings here. We better be aggressive.
Berman: How will you enforce this?
Mayor: You know what, we have a great model, because we already did this with restaurants, with indoor entertainment, with fitness in this city. Over months, we've been doing this. We had a requirement, customers and employees. And, you know what, we've heard from business owners and customers, they feel safer. They go to a restaurant in New York City, you know everyone's vaccinated, you feel safe, and it's worked.
Berman: But, literally, who enforces it? Like, who's the person – do you check with each company to make sure all their employees are vaccinated? Are you going to fine the companies if they don't?
Mayor: So, we have experience already with private sector with, as I said, restaurants and others – indoor entertainment. We had almost no fines. There was a lot of cooperation. Our Department of Health is going to work with the business sector and come out with specific protocols by December 15th, so people have time. And look, in the end, we know we just can't sit here and let this situation get worse. Lives are at stake. And the last thing we could possibly allow in this city, or this country, is to go backwards, because that's a danger. I mean, Germany, a very advanced nation, they’re going through those restrictions and shutdowns. Look, my message – every governor, every mayor in America, get in place some mandates now before it's too late, because we cannot – people's livelihoods, people's lives, we can't go through more shutdowns and restrictions.
Berman: So, this goes into effect four, five days before you leave office. I know you say you have spoken to the Mayor-elect Eric Adams about this, but his people put out a statement that says the Mayor-elect will evaluate this mandate and other COVID strategies when he is in office and make determinations based on science, efficacy, and the advice of health professionals. That's not a yes, we're definitely going to keep it in place. Did he tell you he would?
Mayor: I've had great conversations with the Mayor-elect. He and I have a great close relationship. What he always says is, he's going to listen to the health leadership. Our health leadership in New York City said, it's time for this, we need this. They look at Omicron, they're saying, look, we don't know enough, but we know one thing, it appears to be highly transmissible, even more than Delta, and we’ve got to do something aggressive. I think the Mayor-elect has been consistent. He will follow the ideas and concerns of the health leadership.
Berman: But he didn't tell you that. He didn't tell you –
Mayor: I'm not going to talk about private conversations. I'm going to say, he has been true to his word. He listens to the health leadership.
Berman: Look, I want be clear, is that people who I know in New York City and when I've gone out to restaurant in New York City, people that I've seen were thrilled to take their vaccine cards out and they feel much safer walking in. So, let's stipulate that I do know a lot of people like this. There are those raising questions about tourists coming to New York City. Another part of this is, you're going to require kids five to 11 to show proof of vaccination earlier than December 27th. That starts December 15th, right?
Mayor: December 14th. And that, obviously, we've had now the vaccine for some weeks, thank God.
Berman: We have. But what about tourists coming in? What are you going to do about people who are coming to New York to spend their money who may not have the vaccine requirements?
Mayor: Look, first of all, every child 12 and up right now is under that same requirement for our restaurants and it's working fine. The restaurants are full, I'm happy to say. We are hearing great response from restaurant owners and owners that their business is going real well. Anyone who comes here, we're going to provide vaccination, if they need it. We're happy to provide that. And one shot is – that's the requirement now. One shot and you're in, because we want to encourage everyone. And parents – let me tell you, John – parents, this is the moment. And I'm saying this as a parent myself, we need to get our kids vaccinated.
Berman: That does raise a question for me here. Talk to me about the consistency – the intellectual consistency with requiring vaccinations for kids to go into restaurants, but you're not requiring it to go into schools?
Mayor: Yes. I can tell you that, for sure. Look, we love it when people go to our restaurants or our movie theaters, but those are obviously for fun, for enjoyment. School is absolutely basic to a child and their development, their future. I don't want to hold it against a child if their parent doesn't take the time to get them vaccinated or, for some reason, hesitates. I don't want that child to miss out on education. We'll keep evaluating as we go along. But, right now, after a lot of our kids – and again, I'm a parent. My kids went to New York City public schools. Some kids went a year-and-a-half without being in a classroom. That's an extraordinary setback for those kids. We can't let that keep happening. So, that's why I thought it was important. Every child welcome, but let's really push vaccination. For the older kids, the 12 and up, it's over 80 percent now vaccinated. So, I think we're going to get there with the younger kids, but I'm trying to give parents a sense of urgency. We're dealing with a new reality. This is not the fall. This is the winter. We see COVID go up in winter, big holiday gatherings, Omicron – it's time to get vaccinated.
Berman: If Omicron – we're waiting a week to find out if it's more severe. If it turns out to be less severe, how will that impact this? Will you reevaluate?
Mayor: We've talked about that exact scenario. What the doctors say is, they're pretty certain of the one thing, the transmissibility. That means more cases on top of Delta. Delta's pretty virulent to begin with. So, what our doctors have said, if you just keep adding cases, cases, cases, even if it's less bad than we feared, you still have a lot of vulnerable seniors. You still have a lot of vulnerable people with preexisting conditions. You still have hospitals where you’ve got to worry about their capacity. And those are the things that start to push you towards, again, the things we want to avoid, the shutdowns and restrictions. So, we know enough about Omicron right now to say it's going to be a big factor. Let's get ahead of it.
Berman: Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you very much for joining us.