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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. 

You won’t be seeing this cute indoor dining checklist outside Tacuba on 9th Avenue from Monday. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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 goodjust 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.

Proof of vaccination was still being checked at New York restaurants this week. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

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?”

Vaccination checks at restaurants in New York will soon become a thing of the past. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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.” 

Mayor Adams in January promoted vaccine and testing. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

“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.”

Join the Conversation

12 Comments

  1. The majority of people against lifting these mandates reflect a true ignorance of the facts and data. Their fear has kept them trapped in a reactive, paranoid state where reality is non existent and a calm discussion/debate is impossible. The 24 fear corporate news cycle and willful lack of journalism in mainstream media is to blame but ultimately just believing anything you hear on the tv or captured government agencies is the real problem. We must always question everything and always follow the money. Why the anger, name calling and vitriol? Because people are afraid of uncovering holes in their narrative. Let’s all be brave enough to find the truth-)

  2. We’re not longer in a pandemic; it’s endemic now. We have to adjust and react accordingly. Prolonging these measures when our community is doing OK is a major strain. I’m double vaxxed + boosted, actually had COVID, and even I’m done with these mandates. Wear a mask if you like, that’s OK! Get vaccinated if you want, that’s OK! You’re not different sitting unmasked in a restaurant than you are anywhere else.

  3. My initial reaction to sitting next to an unvaccinated patron was fear – but then I remembered that they are the one risking their health, not me. I think it really needs to be hammered home how very protective these vaccines are, and that those of us who are vaccinated can relax. Yes, we can still catch some variants of covid, but the symptoms and dangers are incredibly reduced. Let the unvaccinated risk their health all they want. Vaccines protect me from their ignorance.

    Of course more variants are going to arise. We can address updating safeguards when the next variant happens. But we need to start getting back to some level of normalcy now that we can each protect ourselves.

  4. It is time for people to act like the vaccine is actually effective and not live in fear.
    Vaccinated or not you can contract and spread the virus. Any person can be the cause of new variants emerging, please read the science behind virus mutation and stop discriminating people based on something you have no knowledge. You can Google “virus mutation” and a simple paragraph from Ohio State will appear.
    We already terminated a lot of small businesses this is a good way to start helping them again! Omicron already happened while they were only tendering vaccinated patrons, it is time to move on and stop this nonsense discrimination practice.
    I agree with Dee Long – people should be supported to determine what is best for their health!

  5. Some factual context.

    https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data-totals.page

    Note that vaccines and masks clearly did little stop the spread of Omicron and that those who caught Omicron experienced mild symptoms compared to previous variants.

    Note also that when the variant graphs go down, as they always do, it’s not because people have suddenly begun wearing their masks or getting their shots. It’s because people become infected with, and then develop immunity from, whatever is the latest variant.

    https://datavisualizations.heritage.org/public-health/covid-19-deaths-by-age/

    The death rate for kids under 15 is 1 in 2.32 million.

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/03/cdc-estimates-140-million-americans-have-had-covid-about-double-case-reports/

    The CDC even admits now that natural immunity is something on the order of 3-5 times more effective than the vaccines, which were based on the strain from 2 years ago.

    Please stop living in fear of death, and please start respecting the rights of others to decide for themselves what risks, and medicines, they are willing to take.

  6. Mayor Adams has it so wrong ! Most of us in NY got vaxed and really worked hard at being safe, wearing masks and being respectful to the elderly, front line workers,
    Medical staff and immune compromised- We are not Florida who do not respect each other! Restaurants, theatre’s, movie houses all public establishments should keep vaccination cards a must upon entry-
    We worked very hard to get here- you paid people to get the vaccination!!! Stop condoning bad behavior…..

  7. So, are we supposed to stay locked up or banned forever? If you’re that afraid to live life, YOU need to stay home. The media and Fauci has put so much fear into these ppl they will run out and get 10 shots without thinking for themselves. Obviously, it’s not healthy to keep getting jabs of the same thing over and over. Funny how no one speaks on how fully vaccinated can still get the virus. The CDC said Omi was hitting the vaccinated more and that’s probably because of all of the shots , your immune system was too weak to fight it. Funny how I’ve been covid free and ppl I know who took three shots were the ones sick. We have to go on living. Remember how frightened everyone was with AIDS? Well, it’s still around. No fear there correct? If you’re scared, stay home. As for me, I’m going to continue to go out, go to disco old skool parties, restaurants just as I have been doing in Jersey or LI. Now I can go to Manhattan for karaoke and just to enjoy life again. I’m not going to apologize for the choice I made for myself when it comes to my health

    1. There is so much incorrect in Missy’s comment. It is not “unhealthy” to get boosters which protect against a virus. Vaccines work by stimulating the immune response, which is the opposite of making it “weak”. EVERYONE spoke about how the vaccinated could catch omicron, that’s why we went into additional lockdown protocols. The CDC never said omicron was hitting the vaccinated more, and in fact it is the unvaccinated who continue to be at much higher risk of hospitalization and death regardless of the variant. AIDS is not comparable – covid is respiratory and spread in public spaces while AIDS is not. (Plus, gay people who lived through the AIDS pandemic in the 80s and 90s know that it was absolutely terrifying and traumatizing, and we still have no vaccine and plenty of stigma, shame, and fear.)

      It’s tragic that we’re years into this crisis and people still spread such ridiculous misinformation. And cheer each other on for it.

      I’m grateful I can be vaccinated and protect my own health from such foolishness. I’m in full support of opening things back up, but that is because we have vaccines and treatments that work, not because I believe the lie that they don’t work.

  8. Eradicating covid is sadly never going to be in the cards. Covid is a viral strain in addition to our seasonal flu that we have to learn to live with. Vaccines are available for those who want/need them, continue to wear a mask if you are particularly vulnerable. But omicron showed the masses what many could read in the trial study..that the vax does not stop you from getting or giving the virus. It’s a personal defense system that many people do need. every child in my family got covid from a vaccinated adult. I’m vaccinated, got covid twice and gave it to my children. But they are the ones not allowed in the restaurants?
    we do not ask for proof of seasonal flu vaccinations. that would be a HIPPA violation. Vaccines passports are not a long-term solution especially if you are the only place in the tristate area doing so. Jersey, westchester, long island all border us and are not requiring passports. They are doing just fine.

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