New York City mandates vaccines for all private businesses as Omicron spreads

By Peter Szekely and Brendan O’Brien

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City declared on Monday that all private-sector employers must implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates for their workers, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant has spread to at least one-third of U.S. states.

The biggest U.S. city set a Dec. 27 deadline for all 184,000 businesses within its limits to make their employees show proof that they have been vaccinated.

In addition, children 5 to 11 years old must get at least one vaccine dose by Dec. 14 to enter restaurants and to participate in extracurricular school activities, such as sports, band, orchestra and dance, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” de Blasio, who leaves office next month, said in a statement.

De Blasio’s successor, Eric Adams, “will evaluate this mandate and other COVID strategies when he is in office and make determinations based on science, efficacy and the advice of health professionals,” said his spokesperson Evan Thies.

The requirements come at a time when new coronavirus infections are accelerating nationwide, especially in northern states, as colder weather has encouraged more mingling and socializing indoors.

Over the last week, the country has averaged more than 120,000 new infections a day, up 64% from the prior week, according to a Reuters tally.

Deaths, which lag infections, have averaged 1,300 a day over the last seven days, up from an average of 800 a day a week ago, according to Reuters data.

The Delta variant still accounts for 99.9% of new COVID cases in the United States, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News on Sunday.

Omicron, first detected last month in southern Africa, has spread around the globe and shows signs of being more contagious than the Delta variant.

A total of several dozen Omicron cases have been found in 17 out of 50 U.S. states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally.

Louisiana has also reported a probable Omicron case in a crew member on a cruise ship that disembarked in New Orleans over the weekend. At least 17 COVID-19 cases were detected on the ship and more testing is underway, state health officials said.

Several Wall Street banks headquartered in New York, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, already require vaccines for anyone coming into their offices. JPMorgan Chase & Co, the largest U.S. bank, has so far allowed unvaccinated employees to come to work in offices if they submit to twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Meta’s Facebook, which also have operations in New York City, also already require all U.S. employees to be vaccinated to enter buildings.

A nationwide vaccine mandate issued earlier this year by President Joe Biden for companies with 100 workers or more has been tied up in litigation. In November, a U.S. appeals court upheld its decision to put on hold the order.

De Blasio, noting that the city has already issued mandates covering several other sets of municipal workers, expressed confidence that his latest order would withstand legal scrutiny.

“We are confident because it’s universal,” he said on MSNBC.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Dilts in New York and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker)

New York City, union reach agreement on vaccine mandate

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) -New York City’s public-sector employee union District Council 37 and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday reached an agreement on a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for over 55,000 city workers.

District Council 37 members who have not provided proof of at least one dose of the vaccine will have the option to resign or take a leave of absence and in both cases, employees will maintain their health benefits, the union said in a statement.

Employees without proof of vaccination who have either not submitted an application for an exemption or who have been denied an exemption may be placed on unpaid leave beginning Nov. 1 through Nov. 30, the union said.

It added that employees will remain eligible for health benefits during this time. District Council 37’s vaccination rate among city employees is now 92%.

The New York City mayor had declared his coronavirus vaccination order for emergency responders a success on Monday, with no disruption to city services, despite a sickout by some firefighters who officials said were protesting the mandate.

The mayor’s Oct. 20 order, which police and firefighter union leaders said would cause staff shortages, led to an 11th-hour rush of inoculations that shrank the ranks of the unvaccinated as officials in the largest U.S. city began enforcing the mandate on Monday morning.

Mandate disputes also have erupted in other cities as political leaders, including President Joe Biden, have sought to stem the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

New York City police and firefighter unions also have challenged the mandate. But the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York said late last month that courts rejected its requests for an emergency order to halt the mandate’s enforcement.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Factbox – Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

(Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared his coronavirus vaccination order for emergency responders a success, with no disruption to city services, despite a sickout by some firefighters who officials said were protesting the mandate.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

EUROPE

* Leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies endorsed in Rome a global minimum tax aimed at stopping big business from hiding profits in tax havens, and also agreed to get more COVID vaccines to poorer nations.

* Britain will send 20 million vaccine doses to developing countries by the end of this year in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell other world leaders is a much needed step to speed up the post-pandemic economic recovery.

* President Vladimir Putin said Russia may need the army’s help to build field hospitals for COVID-19 patients as the country battles a surge in infections that has led to a nationwide workplace shutdown.

* The Netherlands will impose new coronavirus restrictions this week in a bid to curb a recent surge in infections.

* Latvia has received shipments of emergency medical equipment from the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary and Sweden as it fights the worst surge in new COVID-19 cases in the European Union amid a low take-up of vaccinations.

AMERICAS

* The Biden administration said a planned rule requiring private-sector employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or regular testing will be published in the coming days.

* The United States is rolling out Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 this week, but most of the 15 million shots being shipped initially are unlikely to be available before next week.

* U.S. states with the highest adult vaccination rates against COVID-19 are planning a big push to get children inoculated compared to states where hesitancy remains strong, potentially widening the gaps in protection nationwide, public health officials and experts said.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Thailand, Australia and Israel eased international border restrictions significantly Monday for the first time in 18 months, offering a broad test of demand for travel worldwide amid the pandemic.

* New Zealand will extend coronavirus curbs for another week in its largest city of Auckland but ease some after that, with the country logging another day of record new infections.

* A declassified U.S. intelligence report saying it was plausible that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a laboratory is unscientific and has no credibility, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

* Indonesia has approved the Sinovac Biotech vaccine for children aged 6-11, its food and drug agency said, following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for younger children.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* The United Arab Emirates has approved for emergency use the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for children aged 5-11, the health ministry said in a statement carried by state media.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Novavax Inc expects regulators in India, the Philippines and elsewhere to make a decision on its COVID-19 vaccine within “weeks,” its chief executive told Reuters, after the shot received its first emergency use authorization from Indonesia.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Global equity markets rose at the start of a big week for central bank meetings, helped by bets of fiscal stimulus in Japan and undeterred by concerns of future interest rate hikes that have tempered bonds.

(Compiled by Aditya Soni and Federico Maccioni; Edited by Angus MacSwan and Arun Koyyur)

As vaccination mandate looms, New York City prepares for shortage of cops, others

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City officials on Friday were preparing for shortages of firefighters, police officers and other first responders as a showdown looms between the city and its unvaccinated uniformed workforce, who face a 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) deadline to be immunized.

Leaders of unions representing firefighters and police officers have said more than one-third of their members could be sent home on unpaid leave when enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect on Monday.

“If you’re going to take a third of the ambulances off-line, if you’re going to take a third of the engine companies off-line, you’ll without question increase response times and increase the rate of death,” Uniformed Firefighters Association Andrew Ansbro told NY1 TV on Friday.

But Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced the mandate nine days ago, said officials were prepared to manage any staffing gaps with overtime and schedule changes and by enlisting private ambulance companies to cover for the city’s paramedics.

Discussing those moves with reporters on Thursday, the mayor pointed out that the city also faced staffing shortages last year when many first responders were infected with the coronavirus.

The dispute in the United States’ most populous city was the latest chapter in a series of clashes across the country over public and private vaccination mandates.

New York City uniformed workers, including sanitation workers, have staged several protests this week, including one on Thursday at the mayor’s official residence. Many have said consideration should be given for the so-called natural immunity of those who have had COVID, which the firefighters’ union says includes 70% of its members.

City health officials have said that while research has yet to determine the degree of immunity that previous COVID infections yield, it is widely agreed that vaccines increase protection – even for those who have been infected.

De Blasio said only 76% of the uniformed workers facing the mandate deadline have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, as compared with 86% of city workers overall. Within that group, he said the lowest rate was among Fire Department employees at 64%, while nearly three-quarters of police employees have complied.

He stressed, however, that he expects those rates to rise significantly by Monday.

The mayor pointed to earlier mandate deadlines for other New York state and city workers that prompted a rush for last-minute vaccinations by healthcare and education workers as the reality set in that their paychecks were about to stop coming.

“And then suddenly it becomes really clear what they have to do,” de Blasio told reporters on Thursday.

By the time a vaccination requirement for state healthcare workers kicked in on Sept. 27, Governor Kathy Hochul reported that 92% of hospital employees had gotten at least one dose and 85% were fully vaccinated, up from 77% a month earlier.

Thousands of city teachers and other school employees also waited until the final days before an Oct. 1 deadline, de Blasio said, with 96% of the them currently vaccinated.

Police and fire unions have filed lawsuits against the mandate. The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, which represents 24,000 police officers, lost a bid earlier this week for a court order to halt the deadline, but has taken its request to a state appeals court where it is still pending.

The courts have generally not been sympathetic to efforts to block vaccine mandates.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor rejected a request by four teachers and teaching assistants to block the city’s Oct. 1 mandate for school workers. And Justice Amy Coney Barrett in August denied a bid by Indiana University students to block that school’s vaccine mandate.

In Chicago, a federal judge was expected to rule on Friday on a request by a group of firefighters and other city workers for a court order to halt vaccine mandates ordered by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

New York City to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all public employees

(Reuters) -New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday he was expanding the city’s vaccine mandate to include all public employees, requiring them to show proof of inoculation against COVID-19 or be placed on unpaid leave.

As a sweetener, city employees will receive a $500 bonus for receiving their first shot at a city-run vaccination site by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29, the deadline for showing proof of vaccination to a supervisor, de Blasio said in a statement.

“There is no greater privilege than serving the people of New York City, and that privilege comes with a responsibility to keep yourself and your community safe,” he said.

The policy in the most populous U.S. city comes as numerous other municipalities, school districts and other governments across the nation grapple with masking and vaccination requirements. The number of new COVID-19 cases has steadily declined since a surge caused by the Delta variant of the virus during the summer.

Seventy-one percent of all 160,000 New York City workers have already received at least one vaccine dose, the mayor said.

De Blasio said employees will no longer have the option to be regularly tested instead of getting the vaccine, but added that the city will still grant medical and religious exemptions.

The rate of vaccination in the New York Police Department has lagged the overall rate among city workers.

More than 460 New York City police officers have died of COVID-19. Officials with the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, which represents the city’s 50,000 active and retired police officers, were not immediately available for comment.

Workers at the city’s Department of Education and New York City Health and Hospitals agency have been subject to vaccination mandates since September. The vaccine rate in those departments is at least 95%, de Blasio said.

Civilian employees of the city’s Department of Correction (DOC) and uniformed members of the DOC assigned to healthcare settings are also immediately subject to the mandate. But for other uniformed correction officers, the deadline for vaccination is Dec. 1, as the city works to address severe staffing issues at the Rikers Island jail complex, de Blasio said.

(Reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Steve Orlofsky)

Biden puts focus on climate change, domestic priorities on flood damage trip

By Nandita Bose

HILLSBOROUGH TOWNSHIP, N.J. (Reuters) – President Joe Biden visited flood-damaged New Jersey on Tuesday to survey the upheaval caused by Hurricane Ida, putting a focus on climate change and domestic priorities after weeks of public attention on the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Biden promised federal aid and urged national unity during a trip to storm-hit Louisiana on Friday after Ida devastated parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast and unleashed even deadlier flooding in the Northeast.

On Tuesday, he will be briefed by local leaders in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, and tour a neighborhood in Manville that was hit hard by the storm.

Later, he will visit a neighborhood in New York City’s Queens borough and deliver remarks there.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden would emphasize that one out of three Americans lives in counties that have been impacted by severe weather events in recent months.

“The average costs of extreme weather are getting bigger, and no one is immune from climate change,” Psaki said, referencing what Biden would address in his remarks.

The president’s flood damage trips revive a familiar role of consoler-in-chief, a shift from the time he has spent staunchly defending his decision to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the deadly aftermath that ensued.

Although the Afghanistan issue is not behind him – the United States is still working to get Americans left in the country out, and resettling tens of thousands of evacuees – Biden is expected to focus in the coming days on a fight to protect women’s reproductive rights in the wake of a new Texas anti-abortion law, the end of extended unemployment benefits for many Americans, and new measures to fight COVID-19.

On Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he will visit the three sites where hijacked U.S. domestic planes crashed, and next week, he plans to visit California to boost Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom’s effort to stay in office amid a recall election.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday it would take “months more likely than weeks” to complete cleanup, repairs and rebuilding after his state was ravaged by flooding and a tornado from the remnants of Storm Ida. He told CNN that Biden, who has issued disaster declarations for six of the state’s counties, had been “pitch perfect” in his response to the storm’s destruction.

Dozens of people have died from the hurricane’s destruction and some states are still grappling with widespread power outages and water-filled homes.

Speaking briefly to reporters on Monday evening after a trip to his home state of Delaware, Biden declared that Tuesday would be a “big day.” The president has used the storm to highlight the need for infrastructure spending in a bill he is working to get through Congress.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons, Dan Grebler and Bernadette Baum)

‘Historic’ New York-area flooding in Ida’s wake leaves at least 14 dead

By Barbara Goldberg and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Flooding killed at least 14 people, swept away cars, submerged subway lines and temporarily grounded flights in New York and New Jersey as the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought torrential rains to the area.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a Thursday news conference there were nine confirmed fatalities in New York caused by what he had described as a “historic weather event.”

Countless rescues were made overnight of motorists and subway riders who became stranded in the flood waters, de Blasio said. “So many lives were saved because of the fast, courageous, response of our first responders,” he said.

Images posted on social media overnight showed water gushing over subway platforms and people wading through knee-deep water in their buildings.

Streets turned to rivers as flooding swept away cars in videos captured by stunned residents.

Four residents of Elizabeth, a city in New Jersey, perished in flooding at Oakwood Plaza, a public housing complex that was “flooded out with eight feet of water,” city spokesperson Kelly Martins told Reuters.

“Sadly, more than a few folks have passed as a result of this,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said without elaborating on the death toll at a briefing in Mullica Hill in the southern part of the state where a tornado had ripped apart several homes.

The hit to the Middle Atlantic region came three days after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, devastated southern Louisiana. Reconnaissance flights revealed entire communities destroyed by wind and floods.

Ida’s remnants brought six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) of rain to a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut and set an hourly record of 3.15 inches for Manhattan, breaking the previous one that was set less than two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said.

The 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city’s fifth highest daily amount, it said.

The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years, according to a report released earlier this week by The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

One person died in Passaic, New Jersey, due to the flooding and the search continued for others, the city’s mayor, Hector Lora, said in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday.

“We are presently still making efforts to identify and try to locate other individuals that have not been accounted for,” Lora said.

NBC New York reported at least 23 fatalities, including a toddler and said that most “if not all” deaths were flood-related.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, who had declared emergencies in their states on Wednesday, urged residents to stay home as crews worked to clear roadways and restore service to New York City subways and commuter rail lines serving millions of residents.

“Right now my street looks more like a lake,” said Lucinda Mercer, 64, as she peered out her apartment window in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York.

Mercer, who works as a crisis line fundraiser, said flood waters were lapping halfway up the hub caps of parked cars.

Subway service in New York City remained “extremely limited” while there was no service at all on commuter rail lines to the city’s northern suburbs on Thursday morning, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) said. Janno Lieber, the MTA’s acting chair and CEO, told local media it was going to take until later in the day to restore full service.

The Long Island Railroad, which is also run by the MTA, said early on Thursday that services on most of its branches had been restored but commuters should expect systemwide delays of up to 30 minutes.

‘HUMBLED BY MOTHER NATURE’

Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, a city in New Jersey located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, said the city’s central business district was under water and some residents had to be evacuated to the library overnight.

“We are being humbled by mother nature in this last year and a half,” Wildes told Reuters by phone.

He said there were no known deaths in Englewood, although police, fire and other emergency responders had extracted several people trapped in their cars.

Mark Haley of Summit, New Jersey, said getting back home after a 15-minute drive to a bowling alley to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday on Wednesday night became a six-hour slog through flood waters that often left him trapped.

“When we got out, it was a war zone,” said Haley, 50, a fitness trainer, who got home to find almost two feet (0.6 m) of water in his basement.

All New Jersey Transit rail services apart from the Atlantic City Rail Line were suspended, the service said on its website.

Amtrak said on Thursday morning that it canceled all passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Boston.

New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport warned about flight disruptions and said about 370 flights were canceled as of Thursday morning.

More than 200,000 electricity customers were without power early on Thursday in five northeastern states that got most of the rains overnight, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to PowerOutage.US, which gathers data from utility companies. There were also outages in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, it said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington, Ann Maria Shibu and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Shri Navaratnam, Hugh Lawson, Frances Kerry and Steve Orlofsky)

New York becomes first U.S. city to mandate COVID vaccines to enter restaurants, gyms

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York City will become the first major U.S. city to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for customers and staff at restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses as the country enters a new phase of battling the highly contagious Delta variant.

Unlike the surges last year and in January, highly effective vaccines are now widely available against the virus that has killed over 600,000 people in the United States, lessening the need to close businesses and for people to stay home.

The federal government and several states have already required public employees to get vaccinated as have some hospitals and universities. Meatpacker Tyson Foods on Tuesday became one of the largest private employers to require all workers be immunized.

New York City’s policy requires proof of at least one dose and will be enforced starting Sept. 13. Like past policies over masks and stay-at-home orders, the plan will likely meet resistance. In France, the requirement of a nationwide health passport proving vaccination has resulted in police using tear gas to disperse protesters.

“It is time for people to see vaccination as literally necessary to living a good and full and healthy life,” de Blasio told a news conference.

About 60% of all New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to city data. But certain areas, largely poor communities and communities of color, have lower vaccination rates.

HOT SPOTS

The city’s announcement comes as cases surge nationwide with Florida and Louisiana emerging as major virus hot spots where hospitals are once again straining with the influx of COVID patients.

Florida and Louisiana are both reporting record numbers of hospitalized COVID patients, as one doctor warned of the “darkest days” yet.

More than 11,300 patients were hospitalized in Florida as of Tuesday, with COVID patients filling 22% of the state’s hospital beds, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In highly vaccinated Vermont, 0.4% of its hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients.

Louisiana was also dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the nation, prompting Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to order residents to wear masks again indoors.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have nearly quadrupled in the last four weeks to 1,096 on Monday, the department of public health said. The percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus also climbed to 6.2%, up from 1.3% a month ago, according to department data.

To fight the spread in California, political leaders in eight San Francisco Bay Area counties reinstated mandatory indoor mask orders in public places as of midnight Tuesday morning. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, late last month mandated all state employees to get vaccinated starting Aug. 2 or undergo COVID-19 testing at least once a week.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has taken the opposite stance. He issued an executive order last week barring schools from requiring face coverings, saying parents should make that decision for their children.

The Sunshine State claimed another grim record with the highest number of pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations — 138 as of Tuesday, more than those recorded in Texas despite the much larger population of the latter.

DeSantis doubled down during a press conference on Tuesday, defending the state’s approach.

“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to have schools open. We’re protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We’re protecting people’s small businesses.”

In Arkansas, another state were hospitalizations for COVID-19 have spiked, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said he will ask state legislators on Wednesday to provide an exception to a law that prohibits state and local government, including school boards, from mandating people to wear masks.

The private sector, including many large U.S. companies, have also taken some steps in response to the Delta variant threat.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union said on Tuesday they will reinstate requirements to wear masks at all U.S. plants, offices and warehouses beginning on Wednesday but are not requiring workers to be vaccinated.

Big Tech companies like Alphabet’s Google and Facebook have said all U.S. employees must get vaccinated to step into offices.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)

New York City, California mandate COVID-19 vaccines for government workers

By Gabriella Borter and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – California and New York City will require government workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested for the virus, officials said on Monday, signaling a new level of urgency in their effort to stem a wave of infections caused by the Delta variant.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that the city would require its more than 300,000 employees to get vaccinated by Sept. 13 or else get tested weekly. His announcement came a week after the city passed a vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers at city-run hospitals and clinics.

A few hours later, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that all state employees, some 246,000 people, would be required to get vaccinated starting in August or else be subjected to COVID-19 testing on a minimum weekly basis.

“We’re at a point now in this pandemic where an individual’s choice to not get vaccinated is impacting the rest of us,” Newsom told a press conference on Monday.

Federal and local officials have been warning about a rise in COVID-19 cases with increasing urgency in recent weeks. Across the country, many have aggressively emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated – including some Republican leaders who previously refrained from openly endorsing the vaccines.

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require its employees to get vaccinated.

The mandates this week mark the boldest efforts yet by government agencies to curb the country’s outbreak caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first found in India earlier this year.

The Delta variant has quickly caused case numbers to spike after the United States enjoyed a drop-off in cases and hospitalizations when vaccines became widely available in the spring.

The Delta variant has also delayed any consideration by the United States to lift existing travel restrictions in the near future, a White House official told Reuters.

At this point, the sharpest increases in COVID-19 cases are in places with lower vaccination rates. Florida, Texas and Missouri account for 40% of all new cases nationwide, with around one in five of all new U.S. cases occurring in Florida, White House adviser Jeffrey Zients said last week.

Just under 50% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The number of vaccine doses administered daily peaked at 4.63 million on April 10, according to CDC data, and it has stagnated and declined since.

On Sunday, the CDC reported an uptick in the number of vaccine doses administered in a day – 778,996, the most given in a 24-hour period since the United States reported giving 1.16 million doses on July 3.

MANDATE RESISTANCE

COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates remain a point of contention and have already sparked legal opposition in the case of public universities. Opponents see them as a violation of individual rights.

But officials have justified them because the vaccines have proven to be safe and dramatically reduce people’s risk of hospitalization and death from the virus.

Some 57 medical associations on Monday published a statement calling for all healthcare and long-term care employers in the United States to require their employees to get vaccinated, calling it “the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first.”

New York City’s largest public employee union, DC 37, took legal issue with the city’s mandate on Monday.

“If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain. While we encourage everyone to get vaccinated and support measures to ensure our members’ health and wellbeing, weekly testing is clearly subject to mandatory bargaining,” Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement.

De Blasio cited the Delta variant as the city’s reason for moving beyond promoting voluntary vaccination.

“It was one thing to start with a heavy voluntary focus in the beginning and then incentive focus, but it’s quite clear the Delta variant has changed the game,” he said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Maria Caspani, Jan Wolfe and David Shepardson; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

As NYC faces steep recovery, voters head to polls in mayoral election

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – Voters in New York City head to the polls on Tuesday to select Democratic and Republican nominees for mayor, following a campaign dominated by debate over public safety as the city recovers from the pandemic and confronts a surge in shootings.

The winner of the crowded Democratic contest, who may not be known until mid-July, will be a heavy favorite to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio in November’s general election. Democratic registered voters outnumber Republican voters by more than a six-to-one ratio, state data shows.

The next mayor will be confronted with deep challenges including wealth inequality, police accountability, a lack of affordable housing and a struggling tourism industry in the country’s most populous city of about 8.2 million residents.

The leading Democratic contenders include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former sanitation chief Kathryn Garcia, civil rights lawyer and former MSNBC analyst Maya Wiley and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The election will be the first mayoral primary to use ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank up to five candidates in order of preference, adding a layer of uncertainty to the race.

Voters also will choose from eight Democratic candidates seeking to replace Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who is retiring. The nominee, who will be all but guaranteed to win November’s general election, would inherit Vance’s criminal probe into former President Donald Trump’s business empire.

Adams, a former police captain who put policing and crime at the center of his campaign, has led most recent polls, after months in which Yang appeared to be the front-runner. Garcia, who has run a technocratic campaign focused on her long experience in government, has risen in polls after securing the New York Times editorial board’s endorsement.

All three are considered more moderate and have called for increased police resources to combat rising crime.

Wiley, a liberal, has highlighted the protests against police violence last summer and proposed cutting $1 billion from the nearly $6 billion NYPD budget, redirecting the funding instead to other services, such as mental health counseling.

She has emerged as the preferred candidate for progressive groups, after Stringer lost numerous endorsements in the wake of two sexual misconduct allegations. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Almost all of the top candidates would make history: Adams as the city’s second Black mayor, Yang as the first Asian-American mayor, Garcia as the first female mayor and Wiley as the first Black female mayor.

DELAYED RESULTS

Polls close at 9 p.m. ET. Preliminary results showing voters’ first-choice votes are expected sometime after that, but barring a surprise outcome in which one candidates exceeds 50% of first-choice votes, the final results will likely take weeks.

The Board of Elections intends to announce the first round of results from its tabulation of in-person votes on June 29 and plans to release a second round that includes some absentee ballots a week later. Final results are expected the week of July 12, after the deadline for voters to fix, or “cure,” deficient ballots has passed.

The use of ranked-choice voting, which incentivizes candidates to ask their rivals’ supporters to rank them highly as well, prompted an unusual sight over the race’s final weekend: Yang and Garcia campaigned together on Saturday and Sunday in an apparent effort to blunt Adams’ rising momentum.

Yang encouraged his supporters to rank Garcia as their second choice; Garcia stopped short of doing so but offered praise for Yang’s campaign.

Adams’ campaign suggested the joint appearances were aimed at preventing “a person of color” from winning the race.

“I would tell Eric Adams that I’ve been Asian my entire life,” Yang responded when asked about the claim at a news conference. Adams later clarified that he was referring to Black and Latino candidates.

Wiley issued a statement criticizing Adams, though not by name, for his allegation, saying Yang and Garcia’s decision “is not racist.”

De Blasio, whose approval ratings have dropped in his second term, declined on Monday to say how he would rank the mayoral candidates on his ballot.

Noting it could take weeks for a clear winner to emerge, de Blasio said, “We’re going to have to exercise a little patience here, something we’re not particularly good at as New Yorkers.”

In the Republican election, Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the patrol group Guardian Angels, is running against Fernando Mateo, a businessman who created the “Toys for Guns” program in the 1990s.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis)