Mayor De Blasio Offers Businesses New Guidance On ‘Key to NYC’ Vaccine Mandate But Some Outstanding Questions Remain

The mayor’s office published fresh guidance on Tuesday for business owners about how to put New York City’s vaccine mandate into action. Businesses were supposed to start checking customers’ vaccine status for indoor dining, concerts, fitness centers and other prolonged indoor activities on August 17th as part of the Key to NYC initiative. But some proprietors are still developing their protocols, trying to get answers to questions or simply putting off compliance until the city starts enforcing the rule with fines on September 13th.

“The guides we’re providing today are showing the best practices,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at his daily press conference. “We’re showing real templates so it’s clear how a business can manage this and make it work, and also how to know when there’s a fake vaccination card and what to do about it.”

There are three new guides specific to fitness facilities, entertainment venues and restaurants. Many of the best practices are identical, such as designating a staff member to check proof of vaccination at the entrance whenever the business is open and providing staff with language to use to explain the requirements.

But the city also added some industry-specific suggestions, such as recommending that gyms keep records of members’ vaccination statuses, so they don’t have to check someone’s card every time they come in.

The guides also suggest showing staff the city’s Vaccination Mandate Conflict Resolution Training video, which offers tips for preventing and de-escalating any potential conflicts with customers.

Still, some business owners have raised questions or concerns that don’t appear to be addressed in the city’s guidance so far. For instance, businesses covered by the Key to NYC rules are supposed to put up prominent signage informing customers that “New York City requires you to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter this business.”

But that language doesn’t make it clear that unvaccinated customers can still come in to get food or drinks as long as they don’t linger inside, said Geneva Farrow, owner of High Vibrations Juice Bar in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill. According to the mayor’s executive order on the mandate, such “quick and limited” transactions are allowed without showing proof of vaccination.

“You see people come to the door and they read the sign and walk away,” Farrow said. “My staff has gone after people to say, ‘Oh, you can come in.’ But if we don’t catch them, that’s business that is lost.”

Farrow said she contacted the city to ask about the sign but did not receive a response. WNYC/Gothamist has reached out to the Mayor’s Office and city Health Department for comment as well.

Some have had better luck. Lev Gewirtzman, who owns Mayfield restaurant in Crown Heights and Chilo’s, a bar with locations in Greenwood Heights and Bed Stuy, said he has been able to get answers to questions about the mandate by calling the city’s coronavirus hotline 212-COVID19 (although the city has suggested business owners contact the Department of Small Business Services at 888-SBS-4NYC).

Gewirtzman said he supports the vaccine mandate from a public health perspective and is implementing it in his establishments. But he added that it still poses logistical challenges, particularly at Chilo’s, where customers move fluidly between indoor and outdoor areas.

“We’re doing pre-pandemic [level] business with less staff because we’re just trying to catch up,” he said.

Mayor de Blasio pointed out Tuesday that many businesses already have the basic infrastructure in place to check vaccine status. For instance, bars already check people’s ID at the door and members often have to check in when they go to the gym.

But some owners of casual eateries that don’t employ hosts have raised concerns about having to station someone at the entrance to ask for vaccine cards.

Sal Musso, owner of La Strada, a pizzeria near Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, said he might just stop letting people eat inside–a move he says could lose him business. On a recent weekday afternoon, most of the tables inside were full.

“It hurts my lunch,” Musso said. “That’s bad. I already shut down [indoor] lunch for a year during the pandemic.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said restaurant owners have reported mixed feedback on the mandate so far.

“We need to recognize that these requirements do have an impact on people’s businesses,” Rigie said at the mayor’s presser Tuesday. “I’ve heard from some where their customers say, ‘You know what, I’m finally more comfortable to go eat indoors now because of this vaccine requirement.’ We’ve heard from others who may be losing business. But at the end of the day we cannot go backwards.”