NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams on Friday faced mounting pressure from critics of his decision to lift the city’s vaccine mandate for local pro athletes and performers, with a top health adviser to his predecessor calling it a move that would “threaten the validity” of the five boroughs’ public health messaging.
Adams was met with widespread criticism on Thursday after he announced an exemption that will allow unvaccinated city athletes including Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play in home games, despite the fact that the city’s public and private-sector mandates for other workers are still in place.
Asked by a reporter about the perceived “double standard” at a news briefing Friday morning, however, the mayor doubled down.
What You Need To Know
- Mayor Eric Adams was met with widespread criticism on Thursday after he announced an exemption to the city's private-sector vaccine mandate that will allow unvaccinated city athletes including Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play in home games
- Among the mayor's immediate critics was City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who said the exemption “sends the wrong message that higher-paid workers are being valued as more important than our devoted civil servants"
- Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who served as former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser for public health, also criticized the decisoin, saying it would “threaten the validity” of the city's public health messaging
- Adams continued to defend his decision on Friday, saying he "made a decisoin based on the informatoin that I received from my health team"
“No double standard. I made a decision based on the information that I received from my health team. And I have the obligation to make those decisions on how I’m going to move my city forward,” Adams responded. “So you may consider this a double standard. I consider it an analysis that I made, and I’m comfortable with my decision.”
Among the mayor’s immediate critics on Thursday was City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who said the exemption “sends the wrong message that higher-paid workers are being valued as more important than our devoted civil servants.”
The mayor on Friday said he and the Council Speaker would not always see eye to eye on policy decisions.
“There are things the City Council speaker is going to do I’m going to disagree with, but she has a role as a City Council [member]. I have the role as the mayor,” he said.
He also defended his decision to speak with former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whom the Nets retained as a lobbyist in their bid to convince the city to roll back its mandate for athletes.
“Corey reached out, clearly stated he was speaking on behalf of the Nets when he reached out. I received calls from people who were against and for. That happens in the city,” Adams said. “I said, ‘Corey, like any other person, I’m going based on what my doctors stated.’”
The rule Adams lifted, which fell under former Mayor Bill de Blasio's private-sector vaccine mandate, barred unvaccinated New York City-based pro athletes and performers from playing and performing in city venues. Explaining his decision Thursday, Adams argued that the policy was “unfair,” given that out-of-town athletes and performers were never required to be vaccinated to play and perform in New York.
“This carve out already existed. It was unfair to New Yorkers,” he said Thursday. “It stated, ‘If you come to our city, we’re going to treat you different than what we would treat New Yorkers.’”
But during an appearance on “Mornings On 1” Friday morning, Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who served as de Blasio’s senior adviser for public health, argued that Adams’ decision would “threaten the validity” of the five boroughs’ public health messaging, adding that it “threatens the legality of the rule.”
“One of the reasons this rule was valid, and was going to be held up by the courts, is because it applied to everybody. And there weren’t any exemptions,” Varma said. “And one of the things I learned, you know, working very closely with city lawyers, is that the best way to make sure that a public health rule gets held up by the courts is to make sure it’s universal.”
“The second issue is the message it sends, right? You know, part of the way that we fight against this disease, which continues to threaten us, is by us feeling like we’re all in together,” he added. “And if there are certain people who get exemptions for certain reasons that don’t have anything to do with public health, it starts to threaten the validity of our message that we’re sending to everybody.”
Professional athletes, Varma maintained, should be subject to the same “burdens and responsibilities” as other New Yorkers.
“Making a decision that 95% of adult New Yorkers have made, which is to get vaccinated, is a really small price to pay,” he said. “Especially when these athletes, they had to get vaccinated to play in high school. They had to get vaccinated in college, to play ball, too.”
In a statement provided to NY1 after Varma’s appearance, Adams’ press secretary, Fabien Levy, said the city’s low COVID-19 numbers meant it could “take additional steps towards a return to normalcy.”
“Mayor Adams has been peeling back restrictions, layer by layer, and yesterday’s announcement was about fixing a double standard that was created before he took office and that held New York performers and athletes to a different standard than their out of town counterparts,” Levy said. “This is about leveling the playing field and ensuring our local businesses and independent venues are not unfairly penalized any longer.”
“Now the same rules apply to performers, whether they are from New York, New Mexico or New Zealand,” Levy added.