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New York City will have the nation's 1st vaccine mandate for private sector employers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced what he says is the nation's first vaccine mandate for private sector employers. New York is seeing cases of the coronavirus shoot up, including some cases of the new omicron variant. Serious cases that require hospitalization are still overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, which is why de Blasio says it's time to act. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from New York City.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Cases in New York are up about 75% in the past month. And with many questions still unanswered about the omicron variant, de Blasio said it was time to act.

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BILL DE BLASIO: Before omicron asserts itself here, before we get into the holiday gatherings, before it gets to the really colder weather - so it's preemptive because we needed to do something bold quickly and get ahead of all of this.

LAWRENCE: This will affect nearly 200 private businesses in the city. It doesn't affect remote workers. But all in-person staff must have a dose of a vaccine by December 27. There is no option to test instead. About 90% of adult New Yorkers have already had at least one shot, and de Blasio said he expected most employers to welcome the announcement.

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DE BLASIO: The No. 1 thing I've heard over many months is that we must avert shutdowns. We must avert the huge restrictions we had last year. We got to get continuity and move forward. And when the government acts and sets the example, it helps the private sector.

LAWRENCE: He said the single uniform standard means employers don't have to make their own policies. But the Partnership for New York City, a business association, released a statement that the announcement came without warning and without details on who will enforce the mandate. The partnership pointed out that a similar federal mandate is hung up in the courts. De Blasio's chief legal officer, Georgia Pestana, says the city's previous COVID mandates have so far survived legal challenges.

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GEORGIA PESTANA: The health commissioner has an obligation and a responsibility to protect the public health. And it is across the board, so it's not picking one industry over another and treating them differently. So we're confident that this will survive any challenges.

LAWRENCE: The mandate also has to survive into the next mayor's administration. Just four days after it takes effect, Mayor-elect Eric Adams takes office. His spokesman said Adams will look at the policy then.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.