New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday said he’ll sign an order exempting New York-based professional athletes and performers — not just the already-spared visiting performers — from a workers’ Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
Adams, speaking at a news conference at the New York Mets Citi Field, said he did this in part because the city’s economy — including vendors and businesses that surround the city’s venues — thrives best when all its stars attract people to those places. The city’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry, he said, still was reeling in losses derived from the pandemic.
He also said was doing it out of fairness — to put New York City-based performers “on a level playing field” with visiting performers.
“We’re not doing it because there are pressures to do it. We’re doing it because the city has to function,” Adams said.
“This is about supporting our local vendors, our local stores … and hearing those vendors on the ground … saying how important it is (that) players attract people to the stadium,” the mayor said.
He also said he was doing it because the city was now a “low-risk (Covid-19) environment.”
Still, Adams said, “all of us should be vaccinated — including our players.” He said officials would continue to promote Covid-19 vaccines, and he hoped the vaccination rates of all the city’s sports teams would reach 100%.
“Kyrie … get vaccinated. Nothing has changed,” Adams said about his vaccination message.
The previous policy had kept Irving, a seven-time All-Star guard who has chosen not to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, from playing in the 35 home games the Nets have played since the NBA season began in October.
He’ll now be able to play not just the Nets three remaining regular season road contests, but also the team’s six remaining home games as the club jockeys for playoff position.
The announcement also comes before the start of Major League Baseball’s season, allowing unvaccinated Mets and Yankees players to play upcoming home games as well.
News of Adams’ Thursday announcement spread before he made it — and it didn’t sit well with the city’s largest police union, which opposes the worker vaccine mandate.
“While celebrities were in lockdown, New York City police officers were on the street throughout the pandemic, working without adequate PPE and in many cases contracting and recovering from Covid themselves. They don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens now,” Lynch said in a statement released on Twitter.
Without mentioning any groups by name, Adams on Thursday appeared to address that kind of criticism.
“I’m the mayor of this city and I’m going to make some tough choices,” he said. “And people are not going to agree with some of them.”
“I was not elected to be fearful, but to be fearless,” he continued.
Details about how many Yankees and Mets have not received a Covid-19 vaccine weren’t immediately available.
At Thursday’s news conference, Yankees president Randy Levine said a “few” of his team’s players were unvaccinated.
“You’re going to have to live with ‘few,’ and I can’t give you individuals,” Levine said, citing privacy laws and rules in Major League Baseball’s operating agreement with players.
Irving looks forward to speaking about it, once announcement is made
Irving arrived at his postgame news conference requesting that no reporter quiz him on the mandate until an official announcement, but was subsequently left irritated as he was asked about it.
“So you didn’t hear me walk in?” Irving replied. “You didn’t hear my statement when I walked in? Don’t put me in a position until anything is official.”
The conference ended in smiles when Irving, later asked about the potential “domino effect” of the policy change on the team, said that he “could not wait” to talk to reporters once an official announcement was made.
“That’s got to be the greatest birthday gift ever,” someone could be heard saying, to which Irving replied, “I appreciate that,” before smiling and walking away, with laughs audible in the background.
With a game on the road to come at the Miami Heat on Saturday, the Nets’ next home game is against the Charlotte Hornets the following evening.
Rule under scrutiny
“The nonsensical ordinance that singles out our own New York City players is fundamentally unfair,” the executive director, Tamika Tremaglio, wrote on social media this month. “Under this current rule, out-of-town athletes can come into the city and not be vaccinated, and fans can enter both the Barclays Center and (Madison Square Garden) regardless of vaccination status.”
He is in his third year of a four-year, $136 million contract signed with the Nets in 2019.
Adams’ announcement would be the latest in a string of decisions relaxing Covid-19 measures. The mayor indicated on Tuesday that he would lift the mask mandates around April 4 in schools and day care settings for children from 2 to 4 years old, an age group that does not currently have a vaccine available, “if the numbers continue to show a low level of risk.”
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.
NYC expanding vaccine exemption to city-based entertainers, clearing Kyrie Irving and unvaccinated Yankees and Mets to play at home