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People attending indoor live events and performances across New York City will be expected to show proof of COVID vaccination along with a photo ID starting Aug. 17, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.
De Blasio, during a morning press conference, announced he will sign an executive order and the city will begin educating New Yorkers on how the “Key to NYC” vaccine mandate will work from its official launch a day later, on Aug. 17. That rollout will come ahead of inspections and enforcement at indoor city venues starting on Sept. 13.
To show proof of vaccination, New Yorkers will have to show a New York State Excelsior app, a NYC COVID Safe app, a photo or hard copy of their CDC vaccination card or another official vaccine record. “Whatever works, all you have to do is show that proof and have ID as well,” de Blasio said.
And non-New Yorkers will have to show a photo or hard copy of an official vaccination record of a dose administered outside the U.S. for either of the AstraZeneca/SK Bioscience, Serum Institute of India/COVISHIELD and Vaxzevria, Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines.
Before any enforcement, the city will mount an aggressive outreach and education campaign to include $10 million in paid media advertising, including on radio, TV, digital and social media platforms.
And around 600 canvassers will go door to door for impacted businesses, which includes movie theaters, music and concert venues, performing arts theaters and professional sports teams and arenas. There’s an exclusion for performing artists from outside New York City and who don’t regularly work in the city.
The New York Mayor said city businesses welcomed the vaccine mandate for providing certainty: “They believe this creates an environment that they can depend on, for their employees and customers.”
On Monday, Mayor de Blasio got a vote of confidence from New Yorker and veteran director Spike Lee, who will debut his HBO four-part documentary NYC Epicenters: 9/11→2021½ on Aug. 22 with an outdoor screening at Battery Park as part of the NYC Homecoming Week program of events. “We lead and a lot of people are adopting measures that you and your administration have put in place,” Lee said while appearing alongside de Blasio at the press conference.
Lee’s eight-hour documentary essay weaves together the stories, memories and insights of those who were eyewitnesses to New York’s greatest challenges, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the current pandemic. The final two hours of his HBO documentary will launch on Sept. 11, on the 20th anniversary of the Twin Towers terrorist attack on New York City. “New Yorkers are my people, from Harlem to Howard Beach. One love. I’m getting New Yorkers to tell their stories. There’s many eyewitness accounts of what happened at the Towers, and today as people lost loved ones due to COVID,” Lee explained.
The city’s vaccine mandate initiative arrives as the delta variant complicates New York City’s efforts to deal with the COVID pandemic. The New York City mayor said the vaccine mandate is aimed to keep New Yorkers safe during the pandemic, not to punish local indoor businesses that did not comply. “Our goal is not to penalize restaurants and indoor entertainment and fitness businesses. We want to get everyone clear about what they need to do and just make sure people do it,” de Blasio said.
The mayor at one point discussed unspecified rules to verify vaccinations set for citywide arts organizations from Sept. 13. “Cultural institutions clearly have a capacity for checking people as they arrive. This is an additional step for sure because it’s one that they can navigate and we’re going to work with them on,” de Blasio said of patrons having to show proof of vaccination and ID to enter indoor entertainment venues.
He added that ensuring the safety of arts and cultural organizations was key to helping end the pandemic in New York City. “Defeating the delta variant is the best way to support cultural institutions because it brings us all back,” de Blasio said.
Penalties for non-compliance, to start on Sept. 13, will begin at $1,000 and escalate up to $5000 for repeat violators, especially as New York City battles the delta variant surge. The New York City Department of Health reported that the total confirmed and probable COVID cases are up across the last seven days, for a total of 1,782, with the hospitalization rate also on the rise. As of Aug. 11, the seven-day average for the percent of residents who have tested positive was 3.89 — an increase from the 3.03 percent reported on July 29.
The city mayor first announced the requirement that patrons show they’ve been immunized against COVID-19 for indoor activities citywide on Aug. 3. At the time, de Blasio suggested the first major indoor vaccine mandate in the nation — following similar efforts in the EU, Israel and China — would “be a model that’ll be picked up on a lot of other places as we prove that it can work right here.”
But as ever with implementing a vaccination mandate as part of ongoing COVID protocols and safety plans — especially with the delta variant surge among the unvaccinated — the devil is in the details. So until the release of guidelines for the vaccine mandate, which will include specific stipulations on how a patron’s proof of vaccination for entry can be verified, top execs at indoor New York City entertainment venues have given away little about their specific plans as they begin a delicate logistical minuet to comply with Mayor de Blasio’s Key to NYC vaccine pass mandate and keep New Yorkers comfortable with leaving their homes to be entertained.
“We are monitoring the evolving situation surrounding COVID-19 and the delta variant, focusing on the safety of our team and our audiences as we prepare to reopen our doors and welcome everyone back to Metrograph,” Christian Grass, CEO of Metrograph, an indie movie house on the Lower East Side set to reopen shortly, told THR. “We look forward to seeing everyone soon, and to following all New York City and State health and safety protocols.”
As of Monday’s announcement, at least 50 New York City businesses had already implemented the city’s Key to NYC vaccination pass, including City Winery, Union Hall, The Bell House and Stand Up NY. The mayor attributed at least part of the decision to begin using a vaccination program to efforts within the city’s private sector, including the Broadway community.
Broadway has been among the most proactive when it comes to ensuring productions, crews and attendees are ready and safe for fall performances in the midst of rising delta variant cases and the CDC reversing its stance on indoor masking for vaccinated Americans.
While shows like Springsteen on Broadway at the St. James Theatre have been requiring proof of vaccination, on July 30, The Broadway League mandated it for performers, backstage crew, theater staff and audiences at all of Broadway’s 41 theaters through at least October 2021, along with an additional mask requirement for all audience members. The news came only a day after a deal between Actors’ Equity and the Broadway League requiring vaccination for Broadway’s workforce, weekly testing for theater employees and improved HVAC standards for venues.
By Aug. 11, Actors’ Equity and Off-Broadway League had reached a new collective bargaining agreement that included COVID-19 protocols and other safety requirements to meet the disparate needs of actors, stage managers and producers.
“This agreement puts everyone on the path to recovery after an unprecedented period of uncertainty for our industry,” said Casey York, president of the Off-Broadway League. “Our goal heading into these sessions was always to secure a long-term deal that would provide members with clarity and stability coming out of the pandemic, and we have achieved that with a new three-year agreement.”
Individual cinema owners in New York City remained largely silent on the city’s introduction of a vaccine pass from Aug. 16 in the face of an alarming surge in COVID infection cases that could threaten the summer’s box office recovery as major chains and indie cinema houses continue to reopen.
“Most scientific experts tell you the virus will increase in winter compared with summer, but the big change between this winter and last winter is vaccinations. And fortunately, the number of vaccinations, especially among the most vulnerable populations, has been so extensive that we’re optimistic that we won’t see the kind of lockdown of society this winter that we saw last,” AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron, whose circuit has 13 theaters in NYC, told an Aug. 9 analyst call.
The National Association of Theatre Owners also told The Hollywood Reporter exclusively that it wouldn’t object to the ordinance. “Working through how we implement it and how we deal with the economics are challenges, but we’re not going to oppose it, because people need to get vaccinated,” John Fithian, NATO president, said.
Though smaller music and comedy venues, as well as some of the city’s larger multi-purpose venues, were hesitant to confirm shifting plans ahead of the mayor’s Monday press conference, the Met Opera’s established policy requiring attendees’ proof of vaccination and to sign a COVID waiver stands. Children under the age of 12 — who are currently ineligible to get vaccinated — are also not permitted to attend performances.
Brooklyn’s Barclays Center confirmed on Aug. 13 that it will be requiring guests 12 and up to show proof of at least one vaccine dose, with masks mandated for all patrons over the age of 2 unless otherwise noted, with testing protocols currently a possibility dependent on the event.
Meanwhile, the country’s biggest music festivals and individual artists have begun updating their vaccination and COVID safety protocols for indoor and outdoor performances. On Aug. 6, Live Nation confirmed that they would allow artists to require full vaccination or a negative COVID test for attendees and staff at their live events.
In an interview on Sunday, Aug. 15, music mogul Clive Davis told CBS Sunday Morning‘s Kelefa Sanneh that proof of vaccination will be required and that crowd capacities have been reduced for the star-studded Aug. 21 Central Park event We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert. The performance was announced on July 1 and is part of a week of more than 100 entertainment, community, and arts and culture events across the city’s five boroughs.
“They’re assuring us the environment will be totally safe, that they’re taking every precaution,” Davis said. “And that proof of vaccination will have to be shown. And the maximum — yes, Simon and Garfunkel had 500,000 in that space. We are not having 500,000. The maximum is 60,000 so that it will be a much more spread-out situation.”
On June 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose just-announced resignation takes effect on Aug. 25, lifted restrictions across the state. Social gathering limits, capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening and contact tracing became optional for commercial settings, including entertainment and performance venues.
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