New York on Tuesday became the nation’s first big city to announce it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination at restaurants, shows and gyms, joining the growing list of state and local governments and large employers taking a hard line against both the surging delta variant and vaccine holdouts.
Meat and poultry giant Tyson Foods said it will require all of its approximately 120,000 U.S. employees to get the shot over the next three months, becoming one of the first major employers of front-line workers to do so. And an estimated 150,000 unionized workers at the big three U.S. automakers will have to go back to wearing masks starting Wednesday.
“The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we’re going to stop the delta variant, the time is now. And that means getting vaccinated right now,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in announcing the aggressive new measures that will go into effect in mid-August.
Vaccination cards will be accepted as proof of inoculation, along with state and city apps.
COVID-19 cases across the U.S. have increased sixfold over the past month to an average of more than 85,000 per day, a level not seen since mid-February. Deaths have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 254 per day to 386.
Florida has more people now in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other time during the outbreak — over 11,500. Louisiana reported an all-time high of more than 2,100 hospital patients with the virus, most of them unvaccinated. Both states’ vaccination rates are below the national average.
“They’re just coming in faster than we discharge them. It’s definitely people in their 40s and 50s right now,” said Justin Senior, CEO of Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the largest hospitals in the state caring for poor people.
The crisis has become a race between the delta variant and the vaccine. Experts say the vaccine is still highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from the more contagious mutant version.
Amid the growing alarm over the way the virus is storming back, vaccinations across the country have begun to tick up slightly in recent weeks, reaching more than a half-million per day on average, but are still far below the peak of 3.4 million per day in April.
Seventy percent of the nation’s adults have received at least one shot, and nearly 61% are fully vaccinated — well short of where President Joe Biden wanted the U.S. to be by this point.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for reelection next year while eyeing a 2024 presidential bid, doubled down Tuesday as the state again broke its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, insisting that the spike will ease soon and that he will not impose any business restrictions or mask mandates. He encouraged people to get vaccinated.
“We are not shutting down,” DeSantis said. “We are going to have schools open. We are protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We are protecting people’s small businesses.”
The auto industry’s decision to mask up again was made by representatives from General Motors, Ford, the parent company of Chrysler, and the United Auto Workers union, and it applies even to employees who have been vaccinated. The move comes just under a month after vaccinated autoworkers were allowed to shed their masks.
As for Tyson, Donnie King, CEO of the Springdale, Arkansas, company, said in a memo to employees that the vaccine requirement is needed to overcome persistent hesitancy to get the shots.
“We did not take this decision lightly. We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, under half of our team members are,” King wrote.
In New York, Sean Ogs, manager of the Woodside Cafe in Queens, said he was “floored” when he heard the news about mandatory vaccinations for customers.
“We’ve already been in a struggle. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it,” Ogs said. “It’s going to be extra work. It’ll make things impossible.”
Debbie McCarthy, a regular at the Woodside Cafe who is unvaccinated, said she was turned away over the weekend from several establishments that had already begun requiring proof.
“I’m a little shocked they would do that,” said McCarthy, who said she recovered from COVID-19 months ago and believes her antibodies will protect her from another infection. “Why are they so afraid of people who haven’t been vaccinated? I think we should have a choice.”