New York Mayor Eric Adams’ intention to end vaccination checks next week has served up uncertainty in Hell’s Kitchen’s dining community. While some restaurateurs have expressed cautious optimism and a hope for increased tourism, many local diners voiced a newfound hesitancy to dine indoors alongside potentially unvaccinated patrons. In a W42ST reader poll, 61% of respondents told us that the city should not let the mandate expire, with 32% believing it was time to let vaccination checks go.
The Key2NYC program, implemented in August by former mayor Bill de Blasio, required proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, concert venues, museums, stadiums, and theaters.
Even after that vaccination check program ends, masks will still be required on public transit, at Broadway shows and concert halls, in all healthcare settings and correctional facilities. Business owners will still be able to mandate masks at their discretion.
Several W42ST readers noted that the rise in tourists from states without pandemic restrictions and low vaccination rates could be detrimental for diners and restaurants alike. Said one poll respondent: “There are too many tourists that may be unvaccinated crowding into our restaurants. If a new variant hits, we will get it harder than most places because there are so many of us crowded in small places.”
Added reader Kassie Runyan: “With tourism coming back to NYC, there was still a level of security that those visiting were vaccinated. By removing the checks, it also removes the security for those of us that stayed and lived through the worst of it in the city… and have done everything to protect ourselves and our neighbors.”
The risk of unvaccinated patrons was echoed by some local restaurateurs as well. Elijah Servance III, a bartender at Queensyard in Hudson Yards, told Grub Street: “Let’s call it seven weeks removed from Omicron running rampant. I don’t know what data or what stuff y’all are seeing that makes you feel eight weeks later like, No, it’s all good — just get rid of the masks. Don’t worry about the unvaccinated,” Servance said that the bar frequently serves around 300 patrons a night.“What if 100 of those people are unvaccinated? I just think it’s foolish to open that Pandora’s box without a different safeguard in its place.”
Many respondents argued that while they weren’t necessarily against ending the mandate, the timing came too soon after the peak of the Omicron surge. “Nationally, we still have high COVID-19 numbers — Omicron will not be the final variant of this virus, and I feel the vaccination passports have helped give many of us peace of mind in frequenting busy businesses indoors. It seems like it will be hard to convince people to return to vaccination passports or masking when the next (inevitable) variant wave hits, now that we are leaving these policies behind prematurely,” said one reader.
“It should stay in place and be revisited in mid-March — if the metrics look good at that time relative to COVID infections etc, then move on lifting the policy,” added another. Said one respondent — “It feels rushed, especially with removing masks at the same time. It feels like this should be staggered.”
Other respondents noted that the risks of COVID-closures could be as devastating to businesses as lower foot traffic. “I know we all want this to be over but COVID is still here. I wish the mandates would continue just a little longer so we don’t end up with another variant. That would be devastating to these businesses. I am happy to wait longer to be seated if that’s what it takes to ensure safety. And safety is everyone who can be, should be vaxxed so we can protect the immunocompromised and young children among us,” said reader Susan Knipper.
“The ‘throwing up your hands because it’s just too HARD’ to keep this very simple protection in place is ludicrous. It rewards the ignorant and narcissistic, and places front-line workers in danger. If masking is going away — and again, because people are ‘just tired’ is the reason we’re passing the burden on to the most vulnerable, without acknowledgment that we’re doing so — then asking for proof of vaccination is literally the least we can do. Setting the bar low, and then not surpassing it,” said Glenn Raucher.
Several readers expressed anger at what they felt to be a disregard for the safety of immunocompromised and elderly diners more susceptible to severe infection even while vaccinated. Said one reader, “It is irresponsible and disrespectful to people who are elderly or immunocompromised.” Added others, “It makes me feel uneasy and definitely less safe, when I considered New York a haven from the rest of the world for requiring proof.”
Said another poll respondent, “My mother is coming to visit and was very happy about being able to dine inside of a restaurant because everyone is vaccinated and she would be safe, not like Florida where she can’t do anything on account of no restrictions. Now she’s hoping we can see a show where everyone is vaccinated. I’m a little scared myself taking my mask off and being indoors for a prolonged time with people who may be sick.”
Reader Hollis Stern shared the experiences of immunocompromised diners: “As an immunocompromised person who has known of 3 people in the past 2 months who tested positive a few days after eating indoors, I think it’s too early. Wait until spring when the weather is better and infections are even lower.”
Some respondents specifically noted that they planned to dine out less in the wake of the announcement. “It definitely makes me less comfortable to do things like indoor dining — which I only just became comfortable with — in part due to the vaccine requirement!” said one reader. Reader Sarah Ann added: “Won’t be dining out this spring as this new policy makes going into a restaurant feel less safe.” Elizete Groenendaal agreed: “I will not do indoor dining. The thought of dining in a crowded restaurant next to an unvaxxed person is very scary. No, thank you.” Time Out reported that the jury is still out on whether restaurant reservations will be affected by the move.
Other readers felt that the mandate never should have been enacted in the first place. “So happy that these insane rules have been ‘laid to rest/expired’. Still more sanity needs to be restored. Heed the examples of Sweden and Florida,” said one reader “It’s time to drop the policy and move on,” added reader Jamie Brown.
Several respondents noted that while they initially supported the Key2NYC program, they felt that the precautions had worked sufficiently and run their course in the wake of declining case numbers (NYC currently sits at a 1.94% 7-day positivity rate, with 86% of adults fully vaccinated).
Said one reader, “In the beginning, it was helpful in its objective to increase the number of folks who were vaccinated. Now, it’s unnecessary as the super-majority of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated and most tourists are vaccinated as well. Also, being vaccinated doesn’t mean you’re unable to spread to others, so there has always been a risk. Additionally, with no mandate for boosters, are people who were fully vaccinated a year ago or more less likely to spread?”
Added reader Ana: “Since vaccination doesn’t protect against infection — you can get the virus and transmit it to others even if you’re vaccinated — it doesn’t make sense to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated when it comes to entry to public places.”
Others argued that the city finds itself in an endemic phase of the pandemic far removed from the calculus of March 2020 and should adjust precautions accordingly. Said reader Dan Shoop: “The pandemic phase is over as COVID-19 has become endemic across our population like other common (sometimes deadly) infectious diseases. Our efforts to ‘slow the spread’ to avoid over-running hospitals (which traditionally for cost savings reasons do not keep lots of excess spare ICU capacity) has worked and we now have vaccines and potent therapies to protect and mitigate us against the disease that are available to all. As with most potentially deadly endemic diseases (e.g. Tuberculosis), those vulnerable may continue to need to take additional precautions yet the risk across the general population is manageable. We should move past ‘14 days to slow the spread’ policies.”
Some felt that the Mayor’s announcement was more politically motivated than safety-conscious. Said reader Stephen Russell: “We need to be cautious and I would hope a great deal of thought is involved with any decisions. My fear is that the new Mayor doesn’t think.”
Added Steven Herring: “The pandemic is not over. While transmission trends low, people still become infected with COVID. The push to remove masks and change of checking vaccination status feels very politically driven. Remember, elections are right around the corner.”
“The pandemic is NOT over — people should grow up, support everyone getting vaccinated and protect the vulnerable who cannot be vaccinated — nice to know that politicians pander to crying babies rather than scientific evidence!!” said reader Dee Long.
Whether readers were for or against the mandate’s expiration, the most common thread across responses was a sense of unease for the future of NYC tourism, hospitality, and local patronage.
Concluded reader Trish: “I’m concerned that every time restrictions are lifted, the numbers go up. Hopefully, this time will be different, but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.”