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NYC vax mandate begins as governor eases quarantine rules for essential workers

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul shortened the quarantine period for many essential workers even as infections have surged because of the omicron variant.
Mary Altaffer
/
AP
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul shortened the quarantine period for many essential workers even as infections have surged because of the omicron variant.

New York City businesses that do not comply could face fines starting at $1,000. Meantime, Gov. Kathy Hochul says most of the state's essential workers can return to work five days after a positive test if they're vaccinated and meet other safety standards.

New York City’s sweeping mandate requiring nearly all private-sector businesses to ban unvaccinated employees from the workplace took effect Monday amid a spike in coronavirus infections.

Workers at roughly 184,000 businesses were required to show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday. Businesses that do not comply could face fines starting at $1,000, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has said imposing penalties will be a last resort.

“We’re implementing the strongest vaccine mandate in the country,” de Blasio said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “This is what we need to do everywhere. Every mayor, every governor, every CEO in America should do vaccine mandates now. ... 2022 has to be the year we leave COVID behind.”

The new rules cover private places where work is performed in the presence of another worker or a member of the public. That includes not only stores, but shared work spaces and taxis, according to the requirements.

Meantime, Gov. Kathy Hochul says most of the state's essential workers can return to work just five days after a positive test if they're fully vaccinated and meet other safety standards.

Previously, workers were required to stay away from their jobs for at least 10 days.

Hochul said Friday the change in quarantine guidelines will make it easier to maintain "critical services that New Yorkers need, health care, transportation, grocery stores."

The policy shift will affect employees in a wide range of industries, from pharmacies and food processing plants to hospitals and taxi fleets.

The governor made the announcement as infections have surged nationwide because of the omicron variant.

In New York state, officials said the number of daily infections rose dramatically in recent days, up from roughly 22,000 on Tuesday to more than 44,000 on Thursday.

During a briefing Christmas Eve, Hochul also pointed to data suggesting the latest COVID strain may cause less severe infections.

"Positive cases don't mean you're too sick [to work] and require hospitalization," she said. "We want to make sure our critical workforce ... can get back."

In a statement, New York's acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the impact of the winter omicron surge on the workforce "is already being felt."

"A reduction of isolation from 10 days to five days is sensible guidance and in alignment with the recent CDC guidance for health workers," Bassett said.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new national guidance allowing workers with COVID-19 to return to work after seven days of quarantine, with a new negative test.

"[T]hat isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages," the CDC said in a statement.

Officials in New York chose to cut the quarantine period even further — setting the state guideline at 5 days rather than 7. They also said workers returning to the job do not need to be retested.

Employees do, however, have to be fully vaccinated and wear a mask on the job site. They also have to be asymptomatic or "mildly symptomatic," with no fever for 72 hours.

During her briefing, Hochul said rising hospitalization rates are also putting additional strain on health care workers. She voiced sorrow for those who've lost loved ones to the pandemic during the holiday season.

"Our hearts go out to their family members just on the verge of this beautiful holiday," Hochul said. "To know there's going to be an empty seat at the table has to be incredibly painful."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.